WILKES-BARRE — Jeff Emanuel was blunt when asked by his attorney what happens to his family bus company if it loses the Dallas School District transportation contract: “The business is closing.”
He was emotional while reading a letter of support from the Special Olympics for transporting students at no charge, halting so long his attorney, Johnathan Commitz, asked “Do you need a moment?”
And he was defiant during repeated attempts by school district attorney Howard Levinson to prove Emanuel knew the age of his bus fleet impacted how much money the district received in state transportation reimbursement. “The school district loses no money,” Emanuel said. “It’s taken out of my pay.”
The reimbursement is at the crux of Emanuel’s legal effort to reclaim the contract to transport Dallas students, something he said his company has done “for 50-plus years.”
Emanuel spent nearly two hours on the stand Thursday during a hearing before Luzerne County Judge Michael Vough. Commitz is seeking an injunction forcing Dallas to rescind a school board vote awarding the contract to G. Davis Inc. of Pike County.
Age of buses factors in
The state determines how much money a district gets, in part, on the age of the buses. The newer the bus, the bigger the reimbursement. Scrub away all the the ancillary issues surrounding the Dallas bus contract debate — and there are many — and Emanuel lost the contract because his buses are older than those promised by G. Davis.
During the hearing, Commitz repeatedly hit on the fact that the district’s “Request for Proposals” seeking bids from companies did not explicitly specify contractors had to maximize state reimbursement, while Emanuel repeatedly denied knowing anything about the reimbursement system.
Levinson countered by noting both companies had been able to bid twice, and that Emanuel made no mention of new buses in his first bid — which was $83,000 per year higher than G. Davis — but explicitly promised new buses in the revised bid.
Asked if that meant he initially planned to fulfill the new contract with his existing fleet, Emanuel said no. Asked if he had added the purchase of new buses on the second bid because he knew the district loses money when older buses are used, Emanuel shot back “They don’t lose money. I do.”
Commitz tried to reinforce that notion by comparing Emanuel’s current contract, which expires June 30, with the new one for G. Davis. He said both have a clause that allows the district to deduct money from payment to the bus company for any reimbursement lost if older buses are used.
Emanuel was soft-spoken when questioned by Commitz, but more forceful under cross-examination.
Asked why he never submitted proposals to other school districts seeking bids on transportation services, he shot back: “I’m not about put a fellow company out of business.”
Asked why he lowered his proposal so much between the first and second bids, he said: “I knocked it down to have a job and give the people of Dallas the service they deserve.”
And asked if he felt the district had no need to seek other quotes to see if his prices were competitive, he replied, “I think they found out they were competitive.”
The brouhaha began when Dallas opted to put the contract out for sealed bid after decades of quietly renegotiating the contract with Emanuel Bus Lines.
Vocal support for contractor
At least six companies expressed interest but only Emanuel and G. Davis submitted proposals, with the G. Davis offer roughly $450,000 less than Emanuel’s over the five years of the contract. The board voted to award the contract to Davis during a work session.
But the board got an earful from the public a week later during it’s regular monthly meeting, in large part because of the all-propane fueled fleet promised by G. Davis. The board relented, agreeing to let both companies revise their bids.
Emanuel did, G. Davis didn’t, opting to seek an injunction barring a change in the vote.
The request for injunction was dropped after a special meeting May 23, when the board voted again to give the contract to G. Davis, though the numbers were much closer.
Emanuel’s new offer was cheaper than G. Davis until the state reimbursement was factored in. Commitz contends the reimbursement is a hypothetical that should not count, and that if it does count, the board should also consider the property taxes — more than $5,000 last year according to testimony Thursday — that Emanuel’s company pays to the district.
Vough continued the hearing to 9 a.m. June 26 and promised a ruling on the request for a preliminary injunction by June 30. The date matters, because the school board must, by state law, adopt a final budget by June 30, and an obvious part of that budget is how much money gets set aside for transportation.