Language in the original request-for-proposal documents sent to interested bus companies explicitly allows such a move.
But it has the district scrambling to get more answers to safety concerns in converting to a propane-powered fleet. A packed crowd hammered away at that issue for much of Monday’s meeting.
The board had voted 5-3 at a May 6 work session to award the transportation contract to G. Davis Inc. of Pikes County, with G. Davis promising a full fleet of buses propelled by propane. The move meant dropping Emanuel Bus Lines, a local, family-run company that has transported district students for decades.
Supporters of Emanuel packed the room at Monday’s meeting, taking turns questioning the safety and practicality of propane when there are no known local filling stations that offer it. In the end, the board went into executive session and emerged to announce both companies can rework their proposals and submit new ones by Friday, with a special board meeting set for May 23 to consider the new offers.
Generally, putting a contract out for rebidding requires completely scrapping the original proposals submitted and seeking new ones from all interested parties. But Jones noted this was not a sealed-bid process, but rather a request for proposals, which slightly laxer legal requirements. For starters, any interested contractor was able to participate in a “pre-bid meeting” to seek clarifications on what the district was looking for.
That meeting drew about six or eight companies, Superintendent Frank Galicki said, though he noted he did not attend it. In the end, only Emanuel and G. Davis submitted proposals.
But more important, the RFP itself included a clause allowing vendors “who have bid within a competitive range” to modify their proposal, Jones said.
The relevant passage: “The district may request supplemental or additional information from any vendor. A vendor may request to submit supplemental information amending the proposal. If the district honors the request, other vendors who have submitted proposals that fall within the competitive range will be accorded the same opportunity.”
As long as a contract has not been signed and as long as all those who submitted competitive proposals are given an equal chance to modify those proposals, the move is legal, Jones said.
Galicki said the district spent Tuesday trying to get more information on the number of propane buses in use, and safety data, but he dismissed outright one rumor alleging the district planned to let G. Davis set up a propane tank and fueling station on the school campus.
Propane has been actively promoted as an “alternative fuel” for vehicles nationally since the Energy Policy Act of 1992. According to the U.S. Department of Energy website, propane vehicles’ “power, acceleration and cruising speed are similar to those of a gasoline-powered vehicles” while maintenance costs are lower.
In the end, the proposal from G. Davis would cost $83,000 less per year during a five-year contract, a fact cited by several board members who voted for it May 6.
But there are more money issues where the G. Davis contract is favorable. The company has promised all recent and new buses, and the state transportation subsidy paid to a district hinges in part on the age of a bus. Generally, the older the bus, the lower the reimbursement.
G. Davis also offered to include $5 million in liability insurance. Emanuel contractually only offered $1 million, though at the May 6 meeting Sally Emanuel said the company had upped that to $3 million on its own. And G. Davis has promised to complete all reports required by the state Department of Education; District Business Manager Grant Palfey said after the May 6 meeting that district personnel were filling out reports for Emanuel’s services.
That weighs against a local company that pays taxes to the school district, has transported students for generations and frequently offers free service to community groups such as Back Mountain Memorial Library Association, Dallas Harvest Festival and Special Olympics, but that runs buses with an average age of about 8 years old.
Calls to G. Davis and Emanuel on Tuesday afternoon were not returned. Jones and Galicki said they had not been able to reach G. Davis by phone to notify the company of the change.