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Two bids submitted for bus services

May 26, 2010 - Two private companies submitted bids in the hopes of winning a contract to provide transportation services for Oxford Community Schools.

However, the prices they quoted the district and the specific details contained within their proposals were not provided to this newspaper after a verbal request.

According to Tim Loock, assistant superintendent of business and operations, First Student and One Button Services, both based in Cincinnati, Ohio, submitted proposals to the district by its May 19 deadline.

Based on "a cursory look from an operational standpoint," Loock indicated "there appears to be some savings" with privatizing bus services versus the district's current use of its own employees.

The district budgeted $2.257 million for transportation in the current school year and spent $2.063 million on busing in 2008-09.

Transportation bids were opened May 19 in the presence of representatives from both companies and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the union that represents 45 of the district's 48 bus employees.

The other three private companies that expressed an interest in bidding did not submit anything to the district, Loock said.

Copies of the two bid proposals were requested by the Leader on Monday, but Loock said he could not provide the information because the bids must still be analyzed and the board of education has not seen the proposals.

"This is very complicated," Loock said. "It's not as simple and apparent as the custodial (services) because there's so much with transportation. It almost changes daily."

Under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, these proposals are considered public information, therefore the Leader filed a formal written request via an e-mail sent to both Loock and Superintendent Dr. William Skilling.

"The law says a bid or proposal is only exempt from disclosure until the time for the public opening or until the deadline for submissions of bid or proposals has expired both of which have occurred here," said attorney Robin Herrmann, of Butzel Long, general counsel to the Michigan Press Association. "These documents should be open to public review."

As for the reasons Loock gave as to why he could not immediately provide the Leader with copies of the proposals, Herrmann said, "They're certainly not an exemption under the Freedom of Information Act."

"I'm unaware of anything that would protect those documents because the board hasn't seen them," the attorney noted.

"I talked with our attorney as well and there's no argument with you in terms of it being public information," Loock said. "I just need a couple of days, honestly, to get some information. I just don't want to get out in front of the board on that. I'm not trying to be difficult, but everyone's got a boss."

"I want to give us a chance to look at them before I'm reading in the paper what's in the proposals," he added.

Under the FOIA law, the school district now has up to five business days to respond to the Leader's request. The district can notify the Leader in writing and extend the time for an additional 10 business days.

In his FOIA request, Leader Editor C.J. Carnacchio wrote, "I realize that under the law you can make me wait anywhere from five to 15 days to receive the information, but given my request does not involve an enormous amount of time-consuming research or copying on the part of district staff, there is absolutely no reason I cannot have these documents today."

"I would hope that the district would honor its publicly-declared commitment to transparency," Carnacchio wrote.

The district is expected to discuss and possibly act on the transportation bids at the June 14 and 21 school board meetings.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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