Safe to say if no one can find the contract, then maybe there isn’t a contract.
That being the case, the School Committee denied reconsideration, 0-9, of the For Kids Only (FKO) contract extension, and approved a plan by Supt. Priya Tahiliani to put out to open bid the after-school services program. The move doesn’t eliminate FKO – whose local providers in the schools get great reviews from parents who use the service – from bidding on the programming, but it also opens it up to other providers who may offer new and different services.
The Committee voted last fall to put the after-school programming out to open bid, and that stoked a great deal of controversy from the City and from parents who overwhelming like the in-school, after-school program. Committeeman Allen Panarese filed for reconsideration of the vote because there was uncertainty as to whether FKO held an existing three year contract already – one that would supposedly expire next year.
“With this, I just wanted to determine if there was a legitimate contract,” he said during the Committee’s May 11 Special Meeting, when the issue was taken up.
The Committee does not believe there is a legitimate contract, but the City – who picked up and ran the FKO program last year after the Committee stopped it – believes there is a contract.
Committee Attorney Bob Galvin said he looked into the matter and it is his opinion that FKO had a one-year contract for after-school programming that was not renewed by the Committee last year. Galvin said not only does he not believe there is a contract, but also no one can actually find the contract.
“It is my opinion there is no presently valid contract in absence of any other circumstances,” he said. “The School Committee has the authority to put out a new RFP for FY 2022…I never saw the contract at all and I’m told maybe there isn’t one that exists.”
Member Tom Abruzzese said there is one thing that both sides of the issue had in common – no one knew where the contract was. As an attorney, he said that didn’t set right.
“We can always enter into a valid contract, but as of right now it appears we cannot even locate the contract,” he said. “I just want to state the one thing in agreement with Mr. Galvin and the City Solicitor is that neither one of them appears to have seen the contract.”
Mayor Carlo DeMaria was quite upset by the proceedings, and said the City did have a purchase order from former Interim Supt. Janice Gauthier. He also said he has heard the current school leadership has said even if FKO submits a good bid, they won’t be chosen. That, of course, was ruled out of order by Chair Frank Parker.
“The contract for FKO was executed by the School Department and unfortunately they don’t have the contract, but we do have a Purchase Order that was signed (by Janice Gauthier),” he said. “I’m not here to beat a dead horse. The school district chose not to offer after-school services for our families. The City decided that couldn’t happen. We chose to provide these services. We are approaching the end of the year and we continue to provide after-school services and unfortunately it’s not in the schools. It’s in a remote place (former Pope John High School) that makes it hard for families to get to, but we’ve made it work.”
He went on to say if there’s a personal problem with FKO or its Director Debbie Kneeland, he said that shouldn’t be part of this discussion.
“We want to provide services for our children,” he said. “That’s why we stood up and provided services when some did not. If there’s a personal problem with the vendor providing these services – don’t get involved in that…I want to be firm because I heard there was an e-mail that indicated that this vendor would not be given a contract even if…they were the winner.”
At that point, he was called out of order by Chair Frank Parker.
Member Marcony Almeida Barros said it isn’t a complicated issue; it’s a simple RFP process and one that he said FKO could win if they presented a good proposal. He said it was much the same situation as the food vendor contract, which was switched up in early 2020 after a competitive bidding process.
“This body does not want to get rid of after-school programming,” he said. “We want to continue to have after-school programming and if the current vendor provides an amazing proposal and shares the work they’ve been doing over the years, that’s great. Let’s have other vendors provide the same…This is a function of a public body. There is no contract. It needs to go out to bid…Go through the RFP process, submit a proposal, go through a review and the best one gets the contract…We shouldn’t be favoring X, Y, or Z. It’s the best proposal to provide the best services to our families.”
The RFP was due to be released this week to the general public to secure bids, and FKO was expected to be a bidder.