“What do you expect for $25 Million?”

The Octorara Area School District Board of Directors held its monthly Work Session meeting on August 11, 2014, as well as the Facilities Committee Meeting. Seven Board Members were in attendance at the Work Session, Samuel Ganow and Sheri Melton were absent.

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During the Work Session, the Board approved all recommended action items, including hirings and changes in status, and the Agenda Items to be voted on at the Regular Meeting on August 18th.

Debt Profile and Refinancing Review

The Board received a presentation from RBC Capital Markets on how doing an Advance Refunding of Bonds could potentially save the District $300,000. The recommendation was to approve the legal proceedings for the potential action so that, if rates are favorable, the DIstrict would be in a position to receive the benefit.

Currently, the cost of the District’s debt is to the tune of $6 Million (+/-) per year until 2029, not including any of future debt that will be required such as to complete the $25 Million renovation of the Jr High. The current total still to be paid is $91.5 Million.

Safety/Security Update

At this week’s Facilities Committee Meeting, the Administration presented the Security Personnel Proposals from three companies which provided the District with bids. Two of the bids were generally inline with each other, the third was significantly (22%) higher. Several Facilities Committee voices, after briefly reviewing the proposals, did not believe there was enough information to exclude any of the Security Firms from consideration.

However, I stated that at this point in the process, it was my belief, if it had been any company other than that of a local franchise, Signal 88 would have been immediately been dropped from consideration for being completely out of line with the other two bids. My distinguished colleagues, who asked for the additional information, disagreed and insisted there was just not enough information to exclude any company at this time. The additional delay could impact being able to have Security in place for the start of the school year.

High School Water Infiltration

“What do you expect for $25 Million?” was the question asked by Brian Norris during the update of the High School Water Infiltration issue. The original Engineering Firm, Architect, and Foreman Group have come together to finalize a plan to resolve the problem once and for all. To the Facilities Committee’s surprise was their question of where the Board stood on paying for the fix. The issue of the “Drain Pipe to Nowhere” should have been averted within the original design, and could have also been caught during the renovation process itself. It is the opinion of the Committee, the taxpayers should not have to pay for the errors and failures.

Working on 3rd Grade Reading

Elena Wilson informed the Board that the nonprofit Partners In Outreach will be starting a reading tutoring program within the 2nd Grade. Ms Wilson stated the motivation was one of the issues I have zeroed in on, 3rd Grade Reading and how today’s research identifies low reading skills a greater predictor of academic development than socioeconomic status. Studies have shown a student who can’t read at grade-level by 3rd Grade is four times less likely to graduate. This pilot program is intended to help increase 3rd Grade Reading Proficiency Scores, and consequently improve students overall performance throughout their academic career.

Partners In Outreach is a primarily Chester County organization, based in Chester Springs, with many strong connections throughout the community. In the past, they have donated thousands of free books that have been distributed to students in grades K-4, and the new program is for the purpose of advancing their commitment to early grade level reading. It is a volunteer driven tutoring program, with many volunteers who are retired teachers and education professionals.

9 thoughts on ““What do you expect for $25 Million?”

  1. Question about the security company bids – Did they all bid on the same proposal/specs? If so, why is the committee even entertaining the bid that is 22% higher than the rest? Something seems out of whack here.

    • Yes, each of the companies were given the job description with a detailed explanation of expectations.

      I can’t really answer why the higher bid was still being considered. My expectation would have been being so out of line would have ended them in the running, but it felt like there was an attempt to find reasons to disqualify the 2 other bids, and that is why I spoke up at the meeting.

      Up until last night, the only Security Firm ever even mentioned in talks was the local franchise of Signal 88. I am presuming, for some, they have always been the obvious choice, but is something that has started to cause me concern.

      I even took exception to the Administration inviting them to give their sales pitch to Board Members at the June 10th Facilities Committee Meeting along side the valuable information given by Chief Sheller of the Parkesburg Police Department, and Chief Wilmot from West Fallowfield.

      The only thing I can really say at this point is if I continue to feel the other companies are being unjustly scrutinized that I will continue to speak up, and vote accordingly.

  2. Is it legal for the School Board to accept the highest bid out of 3, when all bid proposals were submitted based on the same specs? Isn’t the bid process to ensure that we are getting a fair and good price and not overpaying for the service?

    Is the owner of Signal 88 a former school board member? Is this company being given special consideration due to his ties to the school board and some of its current members? Is this a conflict of interest?

    • I don’t believe the value of the contract is at a level that it must follow those rules, but even then, it is my understanding that low bid does not automatically get the bid.

      After the vote to create the Armed Security position, I informed Dr Newcome and Board leadership that I expected to see bids from other companies. I can’t say how others felt, but I was starting to feel the decision was being made for the Board with no other companies even discussed, or invited to give in-person public presentations.

      I do not believe Pete Mango is a former Board Member. He is the former Police Chief for East Fallowfield Township, and is with the Keystone Valley Fire Company. He started Signal 88 Security of Octorara in 2009, and has been providing the district with Traffic Control Officers.

      I do not know if or have any reason to suspect any Board members have direct or indirect personal or professional relationship with Mr. Mango, or anything that could be called a conflict of interest. I do know that there are several Board Members that place a high value on using local (as in within the Octorara School District) vendors. That is not necessarily a bad thing. However, I don’t believe we should be paying a significant premium to do that.

      I suspect that the reason for the significantly higher price is because Signal 88 is a franchise, which is why they can be considered “local” despite Signal 88 actually being based in Omaha, NE. If you look at Signal 88’s website, their prime function seems to be selling franchises to entrepreneurs. I have no idea what their franchise fees are, but I suspect that is one of the prime reasons for the higher cost.

  3. Mr. Mango is a former school board member. Quote from the 11/21/09 Parkesburg Today – “Here’s a story from Friday’s Daily Local about Pete Mango, a Parkesburg resident and Parkesburg’s former Octorara School Board representative, launching a security business.”

    Regardless of his affiliation with the school board as a former representative, he has the right to bid on the in-school security services. But, his bid came in way higher (22%) than the other two. If all the bids are based on the same services, the low bidder should prevail.

    In subsequent years, Signal 88 could re-bid on the services and perhaps come more in line with its competitors.

    • I did not know he is a former Board Member. It was never once mentioned in the discussions.

      I agree with you that if a vendor is providing the same service, the lowest bid should prevail.

      The reality is, the school district has major financial issues, and this security officer is being pay for with savings. We need to save every dime.

  4. Currently, the cost of the District’s debt is to the tune of $6 Million (+/-) per year until 2029, not including any of future debt that will be required such as to complete the $25 Million renovation of the Jr High. The current total still to be paid is $91.5 Million.
    At this rate i can forsee alot of people selling thier homes to get out of this over taxed, community killing school district. There is only one way taxes will go and that is up.

    • I am not yet to the point that I am willing to accept there is no hope. The District has revenue streams that can be improved, and assets that can be sold. There are also some opportunities that may become available that I believe could both save money and generate revenue, and I also believe there are ways to significantly cut costs without affecting education.

      However, I understand why some people may want to just throw up their hands and put a For Sale sign in the yard. That was my first reaction in January 2013, when the District was proposing another tax increase. Instead, I got involved and have worked to become a catalyst for positive change. Imagine what could be done if every person who is thinking about moving because of the situation first got involved.

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