Bid process in Arundel criticized

School board member says panel needs more control

April 07, 2004|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

An Anne Arundel County school board member is raising concerns about several contracts that the school system recently awarded to private firms, including a $395,915 contract with a Florida-based company to conduct a safety assessment of county schools.

Board member Michael McNelly said he did not know about the contract with the National Institute for School and Workplace Safety until he read about it last week in a local newspaper. "I was surprised," McNelly said yesterday.

The company, which runs a safety hot line for Anne Arundel students, beat out seven other firms in February for a contract to conduct a safety survey of the county's 117 schools, according to school officials.

McNelly said he plans to ask during today's Board of Education meeting why the institute won the contract when it was only the second-lowest bidder among firms that met the school system's requirements. The bids ranged from $238,000 to slightly more than $1 million.

The safety survey, which is part of the school system's goal of ensuring that all schools are safe, will be partially funded with $175,000 in federal grant money. The school system's share of the cost, about $220,000, will come out of funds earmarked for school safety in the current budget, said schools Superintendent Eric J. Smith.

Smith defended the contract yesterday, saying his purchasing staff followed board policy in the bidding and award process. Smith said he asked an outside lawyer and an audit firm to look into the contracts after he learned of McNelly's objections Monday.

McNelly also said he has concerns about contracts granted by the school system for work ranging from asbestos abatement to asphalt replacement, which he believes should have been brought to the board because it has authority over maintenance contracts of $15,000 or more.

The former board president said he wants to make sure that he and other board members have oversight over important and expensive contracts.

Under current policy, the school board must vote on contracts worth more than $15,000 for new school construction, the maintenance of school facilities, architectural and engineering services, procurements from a single company, transportation services and contracts involving real estate.

But the purchasing supervisor has authority over "all other contracts for any dollar amount for materials, supplies, equipment, maintenance, insurance, temporary personnel and services," as well as contracts less than $15,000.

Smith said the school safety contract fell under the exception.

McNelly said he plans to propose a policy change that would give the board control over more contracts and clarify the purchasing supervisor's authority.

"I want to make it simple, so it's not open to interpretation," McNelly said.

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