School Board discusses rating system for companies bidding on district projects
“Local” was the main word used during a lengthy school board workshop discussion earlier this month pertaining to businesses biding on a project during a request for quote (RFQ).
Director of Procurement Services Fredrick Ross said they want to improve and optimize the process of RFQs with the district. He said one of the largest areas of feedback from the Zoom meeting, which attracted close to 80 community members, dealt with vendor participation.
“The public communicated to us that it was important to them that we utilize local vendors with possible points being awarded to local vendors,” Ross said, which includes an office, staff and equipment. “One of the tough parts of this is defining what does a local vendor mean.”
Currently the district gives three points to vendors who are in a 200-mile radius of the county and there is no clear definition for a local vendor.
The recommendation Ross shared included adding four points to the proposal evaluation and four points for the presentation evaluation for local vendor participation.
In order to qualify as a local vendor, and therefore garner four points, the applicant has to either (a) have a personal place of business located in Lee County boundaries, or (b) have done business on a regular basis for three consecutive years and have personnel, equipment and materials within the boundaries of Lee County to accomplish the work.
“We felt that this was a good definition,” Ross said. “We also have vendors who have made significant investment to the area . . . their location is here, (they have) significant amount of employees in this location and have been providing us services and products for several years. We felt like they should also have the opportunity to get these points as well. We felt like we have done that in option B.”
The feedback that he heard during the meeting was that vendors should be significantly involved here locally to receive the points.
“The feedback we received from the community is an out-of -own company can come in, set up an office, no one is in that office, no equipment, no material, no personnel and be awarded those points. That is not truly a local business,” Ross said.
Board Member Chris Patricca said she feels that a national company, or corporation that is located here and employs hundreds of people in Lee County, have been disadvantaged if they have not been awarded a contract by the district in the past three years.
“The construction of new schools is relatively new still. Some of those companies that are here, again, sending their kids to our schools and spending the money that they earn here in Lee County in our economy might be disadvantaged by this,” she said. “Can you offer me any assurance that won’t be the case?”
Ross said the local vendor points equals four percentage points, so definitely a qualified consultant from out of town has plenty of opportunities to score and be awarded on this solicitation. He said currently there have been companies who been awarded the contract that are outside of the 200-mile radius.
“It is possible to still be awarded without local participation. Secondly, this goes back to the public feedback of the desire for the community with this half cent sales tax construction dollars, that we are using to stay within this area,” Ross said. “So that big company that comes in and sets up shop with an office that is not staffed, that does not have significant equipment and personnel being able to achieve and gain those preferred local participation points, somewhat defeats having the local participation points and giving those points if just anyone can get it.”
He went on to say that he believes these four points do not diminish the competition or diminish a national firm with excellent qualifications being able to come in and be successful.
Patricca said she is concerned about the national firm that has an established office with employees who spend their tax dollars monies in Lee County and send their kids to Lee County schools who do not have an established relationship with the district for three years.
“Those are the ones I’m concerned about. Like what does a regular relationship mean, or providing services on a regular basis for three consecutive years. Again, how long have we been constructing schools with the half cent sales tax, not very long,” Patricca said. “So what companies will be left out of this four-point vantage even though they are well established here in Lee County?”
School Board Member Gwyn Gittens said everyone knows that the lifeblood of an economy is the small businesses and when you do not give an opportunity to them and local businesses first, she has concerns.
“These folks are here, these business are here, they are homesteaded here. I really think we need to look at the purpose behind this,” she said.
Board Member Cathleen O’Daniel Morgan said as a current construction advisory member she wanted to weigh in a little.
“Which is more important, local participation, or price. At that time (2006) the decision was made, the price was really the relevant factor. Now essentially what is coming around is there is a strong feeling in the community that the dollars that are funding these projects are largely coming from local households, and not from the state budget. The money needs to be spent locally,” Morgan said.
Ross said some of the feedback that they received from their contractors was that some of the larger national firms in the past came in when times were good, won the bids and when times were bad, they were gone.
“The local vendors were still here,” he said.
Morgan said larger companies have seen the opportunity for construction here and what have capitalized on those opportunities and established offices in the area.
“If we never give the opportunity to local, smaller businesses to get the experience and grow, then they will always be in a different playing field,” Gittens said. “I don’t think we need to sacrifice experience and opportunity. When do you give someone the opportunity to get the experience?”
Board Member Melisa Giovannelli said it is important to note that they are asking businesses to invest in the community, which will only increase the economy.
“We are investing in our local people and they are investing in our children. I think it’s great that we will give a little advantage to our vendors. It’s very important to do this,” she said.
There was also discussion regarding Supplier Diversity, by increasing the participation in minority participation and hiring minority employees.
There are currently no points awarded for employees and participation.
Ross said it was determined that they are not able, at this time, to award points for minority participation. The district has to do a Disparity Study before points can be awarded. Ross said the study is a two to three year process, that can cost anywhere from $150,000 to $300,000.
He said what the district can do is work language into the contract that indicates its intent and initiative to support local minority businesses. Ross said they will also challenge them to set goals, and set reporting and compliance structures and encourage them to increase that goal in negotiation process.
“Brian Williams has made it clear that given his experience in Miami-Dade that he will be working aggressively to pursue this,” Morgan said.
Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins said they have to have this Disparity Study in place. He said once it is in place they can start awarding points.