Students in Upshur County schools may begin school next week without the convenience of vending machines for snacks.
The Upshur County Board of Education reviewed concerns addressed by Buckhannon attorney Steve Nanners, who represented Patrick Martin, the owner of Superior Vending LLC at last week's school board meeting. The board met in special session to further discuss the issue Wednesday.
"We're just trying to be fair," said Board member Patrick Long.
Martin was contesting the Board of Education's decision to go with a competitor's services, saying the choice went against the outlined bid criteria.
Nanners said the criteria set forth in the bid involved which vendor could submit the highest amount of commission to the school board from the sale of the product. The competitor, Mister Vend Inc. of Clarksburg, submitted a bid of 26.5 percent. Superior Vending's bid was submitted at 33 percent of gross revenues going to the school board.
The board members agreed the children's best interest took priority. While Superior Vending provided numbers that would generate more profit to the schools, the price per product was more than was submitted by the competitor.
"When the (bid) procedure ended, there was no clear winner," said Rebecca Tinder, a partner in the law firm of Bowles, Rice, McDavid, Graff and Love in Charleston. She said it was up to the county to evaluate the information received.
The considerations in making the choice, Tinder said, were nutrition, profit and selling products in a way that best benefits students. She said the administration determined the paramount issue was not to "take advantage" of students and to select the company that offered the lower prices on vending products.
Nanners argued his client's prices were not much different than the prices of Mister Vend, and just a few products sold by Mister Vend Inc. were at lower prices.
Nanners said the written bid invitation only mentioned commission; the proposal did not specifically include any mention of the students' best interests,
The word price was in bid language previously used by the school board. For current bids, the board adopted the language of another county, officials said.
"I can see how there could be a misunderstanding, but I don't see anything that was done that was unethical," Tinder said, adding the language protects the board's decision of throwing out any one bid for any reason as long as the reason is ethical and not ill-intended.
Tinder said the board has the right to reject any bid or parts thereof. It could reject a bid altogether, accept both or one of the vendors or toss out all bids and start the process over.
Long said he thought it would be ridiculous to award the bid to both vendors, having each of the machines next to the other with different prices for the same products.
Board President Teresa Bellamy agreed "it complicates things."
Long suggested that Mister Vend's bid be accepted on a one-year term, but not renewed, in an effort to provide products to students from the beginning of school.
In the meantime, the bid language would be reevaluated and bidding would begin anew in the spring.
Tinder said the bidder would have the right to request a renewal after being accepted, but the board could reject the request. Also, the current contract in place with Mister Vend could not be extended.
Board member Greenbrier Almond seconded Long's motion, but it failed. Long and Almond voted in favor, while Bellamy and board members Alan Suder and Tammy Samples opposed the motion.
Rather than accept a potentially unfair bid, for any amount of time, the board voted to reject the bids and begin the bidding process again as recommended by Superintendent of Schools Scott Lampinen.
George P. Carver, treasurer for the Board of Education, said restarting the bid process could take 30 days. Reworking the language in the bid could take up to 10 days.
Tinder offered assistance with the bid language, and the board would need at least two weeks to provide adequate time for vendors' bids.
School starts on Aug. 23 for Upshur County.