Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 38
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
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Conover Disputes Loss of School Bus Contract, Regional School Board Stands by Its Decision

Ellen Gilbert

The Princeton Regional School Board is standing by its decision not to renew the contract of the Conover Transportation Company. Although the Montgomery-based firm had been providing bus service to the Princeton public schools for over 45 years, its contract for the current school year was rejected because, the district said, it was presented in terms of annual costs, rather than the per diem breakdown called for in the bid specifications.

In a recent letter written in response to a Princeton Packet editorial questioning the Board’s tactics in rejecting the contract, Board of Education attorney David W. Carroll said that the suggestion to recompute Conover’s bid to a per diem breakdown based on 180 school days failed to recognize “that many of the bus routes included private school runs, and that the private schools all have different calendars, most of which are for less than 180 school days.” Noting that these variations in calendars make per diem quotes “the only practical, objective and fair way to compare bids,” Mr. Carroll observed that “Conover’s submission of a bid on an annual contract basis was not merely technically defective, but fundamentally ambiguous and problematic as to the actual cost.”

In response to the suggestion that the Board might have waived the defective bid, Mr. Carroll pointed out that the State Supreme Court has “made clear that ‘material’ conditions in bidding specification may NOT be waived by the board or cured by the bidder in a post bid submission. The defect here went to price,” he noted, “and there is no contract term that is more ‘material’ than price under the case law.”

While noting that “rejection of all bids and rebidding was indeed an option,” Mr. Carroll said that the School Board administration “recommended against it” because rising fuel prices meant that new bids were likely to be higher than the original ones, and because “the number of bidders and level of competition is negatively affected as time goes on, as contractors fill up their capacity for the school year by entering into contracts with other school districts. The Board agreed with this sound reasoning,” he observed, “and chose to award the contracts to the lowest responsible bidder,” the Rick Bus Co. of Trenton.

“I still say that we were on very solid legal ground,” said Superintendent Judy Wilson in an interview on Monday. “Aside from the issue of long-standing work with this agency, I think the bid award process was completed accurately and in a timely manner, and I do believe that the board’s decision was in the best interest of service to students and taxpayers.”

In addition to filing a letter with the state Attorney General’s office, Conover Company’s owner, Kenneth Conover, Jr., has retained the services of the Lawrenceville law firm of Szaferman, Lakind, Blumstein, Blader & Lehmann. “They’ve broken every law that they can break,” said Mr. Conover, referring to the Princeton Regional Board of Education. “The state Attorney General is doing an investigation and they’re really running scared,” he added.

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