I attended the Board of Education Special Meeting along with several members of the volunteer Community Vision Committee and the volunteer committee that worked to pass the $235 Million school bond and other members of the public in the
audience. These are just my personal notes and observations. Others are invited to add their own thoughts.
I support grappling with any difficult issues before us, but that should be done openly, in the spirit of collaboration, allowing each stakeholder respect for his or her role, and above all for the good of our students. What I have seen recently indicates there are one or more underlying issues that are not clearly on the table. So, hunting for something that hasn’t been named is taking up an inordinate amount of time and effort. Sadly, what I have seen at the last two board meetings does not reflect the working relationship between board and staff that I have observed in the past as marked by professionalism, respect, trust and continuity. I do not want Kansas City, Kansas to slip into the quagmire that was the Kansas City, Missouri school district after one person decided to insist on his personal choice for contractors and suppliers. It’s not the staff job to make policy, and it’s not the board job to carry out the day-to-day work. It’s about respecting each other’s responsibility in providing for the kids. And their job is to work together to provide our children, our students, our community with the best possible education.
Here are my notes describing what I heard at the meeting on January 29, 2018. The beginning of the meeting took up the same property discussed the week before. The board is reconsidering the acquisition of property at 8833 Waverly which was first approved by the board last December. At the January 23 meeting, the board agreed to seek another appraisal of the subject property. In the meantime, the staff contacted the seller for a 30-day extension. Dr. Mather presented the board with 3 choices: approve the contract as first written, accept the 30- day extension and hope for different offer based on results of a second appraisal, or reject the agreement. After a brief executive session, the board voted to get a second appraisal. The executive staff provided the board with a list of vetted real estate appraisers, Dr. Winn proposed Newsome Appraiser, a Missouri company that was apparently not on the list. There was no board discussion of that company’s qualifications or other factors considered in usual vetting. The board approved hiring Newsom to provide a second appraisal of the property at 8833 Waverly. (Members of the audience looked up the company and found that the number listed on their website was not active, then found a “new” number which she called and found that number is not active.)
Then Dr. Kelli Mather gave an in-depth report on the processes, rules and considerations that go into the executive staff implementation of the school improvement project, and fielded questions from the board. She described “What we Promised” – 80 discrete projects, then she went into “Keeping the Promise” including the contractual and legal requirements that all of the work be done in 5 years. She explained the difference between hiring a Design-Build Team, a Construction Manager, and a Construction Manager at Risk. J.E. Dunn Company (“Dunn”) is the Construction Manager at Risk. This schedule pushes the expenditure, but the tracking reports prepared by Dunn, are living documents changing as the work progresses and as outside factors (e.g. weather) are accommodated. There is an ebb and flow as they get into the actual work. The construction schedule changes all the time. The board had hard copies of reports that were not available to the audience. Dr. Mather said Work packages 1A, 1B and 2 are all done, so start with 3A and you see entries for preconstruction, procurement and construction. She explained all those terms to the board. These reports are tools used by the District administrative staff and the Contractor at Risk to keep projects moving forward. She described how her time is spent with ½ day meetings 3 to 4 days a week to coordinate with the Contractor at Risk. She explained how a Contractor at Risk lets the district retain more control over the construction process, in contrast to a General Contractor who would manage the whole process, returning a turnkey result to the district. The estimate is now about $26 Million for year 1.
· Question. Are those who bid vetted ahead of time? Answer. Yes, the Contractor does that, making sure they are able to carry out the work, but they have to use legitimate reasons, they can’t just arbitrarily pick certain contractors.
· Question. But if Dunn is the Contractor at Risk and Dunn is also allowed to bid, who checks on whether Dunn is getting special treatment? Answer. All bids arrive in sealed envelopes, so the person transporting them to the District and the people opening the bids don’t know which is which.
· Question. It seems like certain businesses don’t find out about the request for bid in time. How are they supposed to know when to submit a bid? Answer. On district website and on Dunn website. Board comment: that website is not user-friendly.
Dr. Mather continued her presentation going through the components of the monthly report provided to the board.
· Question. Go through the math. Answer. This is a monthly report, so assuming board member has the previous reports, each one adds the new information and adjusts the cumulative numbers. Went through the math. Comment. Need to have what was spent in previous months. (Hard to follow without the hard copy that the board had)
· Questions. Does the report show the individual contractors? Answer. Yes, that’s in the bid tabs.
· Question. Are you going to go over the other pages? Answer. Yes.
Dr. Mather explained why they hired Dunn as a Contractor at Risk rather than a General Contractor – It’s basically a delivery method that allows the District to retain more control. The “at Risk” part means that Dunn takes the risk of all the subcontractors within the guaranteed maximum price. Dunn brings the sealed bids to the District office where they are opened publicly. Then they choose the lowest responsible bid. Dunn also maintains the construction schedule and Mather works actively with them. Both the Administration and Dunn work collaboratively to reduce the time and expense involved in each discrete project.
· Question. Are these meetings public and where is the schedule of meetings posted? Answer. Nothing preventing someone from sitting in. The schedule isn’t posted but they happen 3-4 times a week, and a person could call Dr. Mather’s office to find out when the next one is scheduled.
· Question. There’s no mandate to make daily working meetings public? Answer. It is the District employees’ job to implement the expectations of the board.
· Question. It doesn’t seem people get to know when a bid is due, like the notice only goes to certain people. Answer. It is in the District’s best interest to get as many bids as possible because increased competition usually results in lower cost. They are all posted in a variety of places and many outreach efforts to get the word out.
· Question. Do we hold Dunn accountable for a good faith bid request? Answer. Yes. We do keep track. Dunn proves a report on the inclusion participation for every bid packet including the number invited, the number who responded and the number awarded. Specific reference to the numbers in the hard copy before the board. (hard to hear the numbers from the audience). SmartBid net is Dunn’s system for subcontractors. Anyone can put themselves in that system and Dunn will assist with the process. And it includes all subcontractors who have ever participated before. (checking Dunn’s website later, they call this Dunn’s SMS Prequalification System and it can be found atsms.jedunn.com)
· Question. Have you analyzed the minority and women owned businesses on Smart BidNet? Answer. No, but Dunn knows those number.
· Question. If in the BidNet System, don’t those subcontractors have a better chance of winning bids? Answer. Not in experience of Dr. Mather, but she would defer that to Dunn to respond.
· Question. What do the zeros mean? Answer. To their knowledge none of the bidders reported that they found the bid request in that category (e.g. on the District website). Comment. So, we need further inquiry into that.
· Question. How can you tell what part of Minority-Women-Local is local? Dunn is included in “local”, so that doesn’t really tell the amount that is Minority and Women? Answer. In early reports that was separated out, and it was combined at the board’s request. We can go back to that format.
· Question. How can a smaller company compete with a big company like Dunn? Answer. The competition is tied to each bid and there are different sizes of jobs and different skills or capabilities in each bid packet. So, any company can choose to bid on jobs that fit their specialty or skills or capabilities.
· Question. Do minorities and women only get the smaller jobs? Answer. You have all that detail in the bid tabs.
· Question. Why do some say they didn’t bid because “not enough time”? Answer. That is a category of answers that Dunn got when calling those who didn’t bid and asking them “why didn’t you put in a bid”. Comment. They need to ask a follow up question whether that’s because they didn’t know about the deadline in time or that’s because their business has so much work already. Response. All bids are put out with 3 to 4-week time frame which is the industry standard. (note: this question and answer also happened at the last meeting)
· Question. Why is there only one pre-bid meeting? Wasn’t there one on a day off, so the District office was closed and there wasn’t signage to the meeting? Answer. A pre-bid meeting is for potential bidders to come ask questions to clarify the work in the packet and sometimes to walk the site and see what is involved. Attendance at the pre-bid meeting is not required for a company to submit a bid. It is the industry standard to have one pre-bid meeting. The one you mentioned, there was a second pre-bid meeting scheduled.
· Comment. Minority bidders get no solid advance notice. They may or may not relate to looking on the District website or the link to the Dunn website. Not that they need special treatment but it seems you could do better on outreach: 1A and 1B were not good. Answer. All the information is on the district’s bond website. Overall, the MWL numbers are good, but of course we can all always do better. The economic inclusion committee now meets monthly in advance of the bid meetings.
After the presentation by Dr. Mather, board member Dr. Yeager asked if board members are involved in teacher negotiations. The board passed a resolution allowing Dr. Yeager to sit in on teacher negotiations.
This Blog is being generated by a group of citizens invited by USD 500 to participate as a Citizen's Advisory Committee during the Bond Issue campaign. This group continues to be involved in supporting USD 500 and watching the results from the successful Bond election. This Blog is best read from the bottom/oldest post to the to/newest post.