At last night’s meeting of the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, citizens learned that the process used to select the vendor for artificial athletic fields was flawed and violated Kansas law. The district will start over, almost from the beginning, and use a competitive bidding process to select the firm to install the fields at five high schools. The result is that the fields will not be available for the coming football season.
Interim Superintendent Martin Libhart announced that a hearing committee had been working all day, and that its recommendation was to reject and revoke the award of bid to Hellas Construction, and the the project should be put out for competitive bid.
During time for citizen comment, speakers mentioned that the board promised that the bond money would stay local and the hope that taxes would be spent wisely.
The president of Hellas Construction spoke and thought that the bid process was very thorough. He believes that the proposal process had been commingled with a competitive bid process, and that leads to the question as to whether anyone but the second-low bidder has standing to challenge the process.
Board member Kevass Harding asked whether the process — 400 hours of time plus travel expenses — was wrong? Board counsel Tom Powell said the process was thorough. The question, he said, was whether the Kansas bid law applied in this situation. The decision of the committee was that we couldn’t come to a conclusion as to what had been done complied with the bid law.
Board member Connie Dietz asked why this process must be a competitive bid rather than a request for proposal. After a follow-up question, Powell said that this process should have been a competitive bid.
Dietz asked what happens to the timeline, if we support the committee? The district had wanted to have the field in place for the fall, but now that goal is not achievable.
She also asked what happens if the board stands by its previous decision? Powell answered “we’ll go to court.”
After an executive session of about 30 minutes and a few additional questions, board member Barb Fuller moved that the bid be revoked and the turf fields be put out for competitive bid.
Board member Lanora Nolan warned against “buying the cheap.” She said her greatest frustration is when “adult” issues get in the way of what’s best for kids. She also noted that none of the citizens who spoke to the board on this matter mentioned what’s best for kids. That’s heartbreaking, she said, to talk about taxpayer money and not what’s best for kids.
The motion passed unanimously.
After the meeting, citizen John Todd said “How is it that you [USD 259] can break the law — violating a state statute — and anyone that advocates for the taxpayer get criticized because they’re against children.”
It is now apparent that the process of acquiring these turf fields was flawed from the start. Somehow, the district started an expensive selection process that is contrary to what is now apparent the law requires, according to Powell’s interpretation. 400 hours of time plus travel expenses (my request for these expense records is being fulfilled) is now largely wasted, although some of the experience gained will be used in writing the specifications for the bid process.
Also, a season will go by without new artificial athletic fields.
If the board wants to assess blame, it should investigate who it was that authorized this expensive and flawed process. In particular, was the process approved by the district’s legal counsel, either internal or external?
Certainly the district has legal staff at its disposal. Last year during the bond issue campaign the district’s lawyers had time enough to threaten to sue a citizen group because the apple they used was similar to the apple the district uses in its logo.
If the district has the legal resources to harass citizen groups about the use of a generic apple logo, why can’t they get these big things right?
The Wichita school district talks about accountability. Here’s a chance to show that they actually mean it. Investigate and find who is responsible for this.
Coverage from the Wichita Eagle is at Wichita district nixes turf builder’s contract.