Audit: Jefferson school bids didn't have much competition

·3 min read

Jun. 19—A recent state audit of the Jefferson Central School District found its bidding and procurement policies lacking in competition.

Of the 14 service providers reviewed by the Office of New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli over an 18-month period, district officials paid a total of $135,000 to 10 of them without seeking competitive pricing or offers — a violation of the district's own purchasing policy, which requires officials to obtain written quotes from at least three vendors for purchases that exceed $1,000.

The audit found that a lawn care business owned by a district employee was paid nearly $9,000 for the maintenance of school sports fields without properly seeking competition from other vendors.

District officials told examiners that the employee offered to provide the services at a lower cost, but the report noted that examiners were "unable to determine whether the District achieved cost savings due to the lack of supporting documentation for the quotes."

The employee's personal interest in the contract was not disclosed to the Jefferson Board of Education in writing, nor was it recorded in meeting minutes, according to the report.

"Although our testing did not reveal any irregularities in pricing, when employees, in their private capacities, conduct business with the District for which they serve, the public may question the appropriateness of these transactions," the report read.

In a May 19 response letter, district Superintendent Tarkan Ceng explained that district officials and board members "have had difficulty obtaining other vendors," citing in particular the "geographic location of the district."

"As such, this employee has become de facto a sole source vendor," Ceng continued. "We will continue to seek other sources in the future but may have to remain with the current vendor."

Ceng pledged that the school board will update its code of ethics policy to include provisions for disclosing conflicts of interest.

"Jefferson is in a rural area where some professional services are difficult to obtain and can cost more in expenses due to travel costs," Ceng wrote. "Using a local vendor to provide similar services can result at times in a cost benefit."

District officials told examiners they did not seek competition for services because they were "familiar and satisfied" with their current providers for services from an attorney, school physician, elevator maintenance and financial advisor, with whom they had contracted for at least three years, and the district insurance provider, which whom they had contracted for 10 years.

"When District officials do not seek competition for services, they cannot assure taxpayers that services are obtained in the most prudent and economical manner, without favoritism," the report read. "Further, they may be unaware of other providers that could offer similar services at a more favorable price."

Ceng also cited subsections 103 and 104 of New York General Municipal Law, which outlines that special services, such as those that require "special skill, training, expertise, the use of professional judgment or discretion and/or a high degree of creativity" are exempt from competitive bidding procedures.

An addendum on the district's response noted again that the district's procurement practices were in violation of its own policy.

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