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School bus company cites Trinity district board's makeup in lawsuit

| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 11:40 p.m.

A Washington County school district trying to cut costs on school bus contracts discovered it's not as easy as opening the process to bids after nearly half a century of working with the same two companies.

One of the companies, GG&C, sued the Trinity Area School District over a number of issues, including that three of the nine board members work for the other company, Schweinebraten.

“The bus companies collectively are interested in doing anything they can for the district, students and parents to make this process as easy as possible,” said Richard Kelly, a Montgomery County lawyer representing GG&C, which has transported Trinity students through no-bid contracts since 1967, in a Common Pleas lawsuit against the district.

The three board members — Sandra Clutter, Jenene Hupp and William Clemens — were barred from bus contract discussions and votes, per a court agreement as part of the lawsuit. The remaining six members are weighing bids from four companies, including its current contractors.

“This is public money,” said board member Colleen Interval. “How are you going to know what the going rate is if you don't put it out for bid? We work for the taxpayers, not the bus companies.”

None of the other board members responded to requests for comment. Contracts with GG&C and Schweinebraten bus companies, both of Washington, expire June 30.

State law does not require public bids for bus contracts, said Jay Himes, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Officials in Harrisburg.

“But the fact that you are not required to do it does not mean it isn't something you ought to do periodically,” Himes said.

GG&C and Schweinebraten submitted bids for a 5-year contract along with First Student and Auxilio Services, both of Cincinnati. GG&C and Schweinebraten offered to extend their contracts for another year if the board cannot decide.

After the school board voted in November to seek bids, GG&C sued in December.

Board members on Thursday will discuss the bids and a possible lawsuit settlement behind closed doors before their regular meeting, said attorney Chris Furman, who represents the district. A settlement meeting with GG&C could be scheduled next week, he said.

“The board is deadlocked,” Furman said. “But we are resuming deliberations.”

The board voted 3-3 on March 7 on whether to accept bids for GG&C and Schweinebraten to continue splitting the bus services. GG&C handles 22 of the district's 33 bus routes. Schweinebraten handles the other 11.

Comparing bids by the four companies is a complex task. Bid options include figures for 11, 22 and all 33 routes, including and not including transportation for activities and sports and with or without fuel charges.

GG&C originally submitted what it said was an all-inclusive, 5-year bid for $9.1 million, but three post-deadline clarifications by the company put the bid at $8.7 million for all daily routes, not including extracurriculars.

“GG&C is in fact the lowest bidder,” Kelly said.

Trinity paid a total of $11.6 million to the two companies between 2007 and 2012.

It paid GG&C more than $8.2 million for 22 daily bus routes plus extracurriculars, state records show. The district paid Schweinebraten nearly $3.4 million over the same period for 11 daily bus routes and similar additional services.

GG&C offered to settle the lawsuit if the district awards it the bus contract, though Kelly declined to comment on those negotiations.

Interval said GG&C should be disqualified.

“My recommendation is to throw out all (GG&C) bids,” she said. “I refuse to vote on a contract where we have four bids from one company.”

Jason Cato is a staff writer for TribTotal Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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