Legislators – Help Close This Loophole
I have found a consistent problem with my school district, Iowa City Community School District. Specifically a lack of competitive bidding policies pertaining to service contracts. For many years, in excess of 24, the ICCSD has used one vendor for its grounds maintenance. During this uninterrupted stretch, the District has no record of a second bid. Only one vendor, one bid, one contract. This year during a rebidding of the contract, there was a problem with an email to the Press-Citizen. To quote the Chief Operations Officer for the District, “the Press-Citizen was notified of the RFP, and a link was posted on our homepage. Unfortunately, something happened with the email to the Press-Citizen, so notification of the RFP never appeared in the newspaper. This is obviously unfortunate, but not a violation of law or policy.” Not a violation of law or policy. It should be a violation of the law and it should be policy that we publicly advertise. It should be obvious to everyone involved that public notification, through the newspapers as well as online, only serves the public good and encourages competition. Lack of notification or a competitive bidding process is how one company can have a monopoly on a service contract for 24 years. Additionally, the ICCSD is in a renovation and construction boom with 100 million dollars to spend in addition to PPEL and other funds. The District presently contracts with one architectural firm for the vast majority of our needs. The District has no idea what money can potentially be saved. Legislators should require service contracts by governmental entities to be meet the same standards for public improvement contracts (construction) (Iowa Code Section 26.3(1)) which requires any public improvement contract with an estimated cost of $125,000.00 or greater be advertised for sealed bids by publishing a notice to bidders. The notice to bidders shall be published at least once, not less than four (4) and not more than 45 days before the date for filing bids, in a newspaper published at least once weekly and having a general circulation in the geographic area served by the governmental entity. Governmental entities can adjust the monetary threshold lower if they wish but at a bare minimum this will help to protect taxpayers from governmental bodies who do not take their fiduciary responsibilities seriously. We are looking to stretch every dollar possible. There must be a mechanism that will force those who will not seek competition to do so. Taxpayers deserve it.
School Board Priorities Still a Problem
One step forward two steps back seems to be how we are going. At April 2nd School Board meeting the School Board finally approved Superintendent limitations which would require approval for expenditures greater than $25,000. This was recommended by the Synesi group over a year ago. Well better late than never. Maybe not.
It was not put in place soon enough to prevent the mechanic at the Physical Plant from purchasing two (2) E350 vans for $35,533.00 a piece for a total of $71,066.00. So it appears that the Physical Plant has greater spending authority than our Superintendent. And why are we using PPEL funds to purchase fleet vehicles but we use the School Foundation to raise money for SmartBoards™ in our classrooms? We are putting a higher priority on Physical Plant employee comfort than educational opportunities for our students. Isn’t that what the District is in the business for in the first place? If we need SmartBoards™ in our classrooms, spend the PPEL funds now and put them in there. PPEL funds could be used for the overdue addition at Penn, a gymnasium for Tate or for a permanent location for Transitions; things that would affect students every day. If we need new vehicles for the Physical Plant, let them fundraise – bake sales, frozen pizzas, etc. – or make do with older pieces of equipment. This new paint policy has to end. Physical Plant vehicles need to meet DOT safety standards and get them from the Physical Plant to the schools in a reliable fashion, period. It would also be interesting to check how many District vehicles have air conditioning and power windows as compared to classrooms which do not have air conditioning and some classrooms which do not even have windows.
Concerning just how ICCSD spends money: the District’s policies of using one vendor for service contracts is as outdated as the rotary telephone. Iowa Code 26.3(1) pertaining to competitive bidding practices for public improvement contracts needs to immediately be applied to the District’s purchasing of service contracts from outside vendors.
Our schools are not established to underwrite the bottom-line of any grounds maintenance company or architectural firm. We should contract with vendors who provide the District with efficient, economical and safe services that meet our needs. The District should maximize dollars in the classroom for our students instead of padding bank accounts. Iowa legislators who talk about getting more money to our schools should take action to close this loophole. Not every School District operates as the ICCSD. Many have their own Board policies to encourage competition. Hopefully our Board members will adopt a more progressive policy concerning competitive bidding practices.
Who knows, maybe in the future we’ll see signs urging us to donate to the “Ford E350 fund” but these misplaced priorities have to stop.