School System refutes Fox 5 piece on turf field bidding process

School System refutes Fox 5 piece on turf field bidding process

The Fayette County School System is defending itself against a TV news report they say portrayed it in an unfair light. On Monday night’s broadcast, the Fox 5 News aired an “I-Team Investigates” piece by Dale Russell alleging an unfair bidding process in the bid award for artificial turf fields at four county high schools, but the school system says the story that was presented isn’t what it seems.

“Sadly, the media outlet has chosen to ‘make’ the news rather than ‘report’ the news,” says a letter sent out to employees and the local media. “While it is not in the district’s best interest to cater to the metro media market, it is important to us to educate our local media, stakeholders and taxpayers, and the Fayette County School System staff.”

The School System assures that the process was fair and open.

“All of this process was done transparently. The entire process was shared with the Board of Education during a public meeting, and the board’s vote was unanimous.”

In the report, Russell speaks with John Bogosian of Sprinturf, whose company was the lowest bidder but was not chosen for the project. Bogosian had previously approached Fox 5 with a similar story when his bid was also not chosen in another county. According the school system, the lowest bid price is not always the final decider. Many factors go into a final decision that don’t come out in that final number.

“The elements of the proposals were weighted and scored appropriately. Based on those scores, the top vendor candidates proceeded to the next round of vetting, which was to call past customers for recommendations based on quality of service, installation, warranty, response to repairs, etc., in addition to the proposed price,” says the letter. “In speaking to systems that had done business with the highest-rated (bids), some strong concerns about the quality of work of the low bid vendor were found. For example, a neighboring school system indicated that they had numerous issues that required warranty repair work, but they could not get the vendor to make good on the warranted repairs.”

The decision was made in the interest of protecting the investment of taxpayers and safeguarding students.

“During the bid review process, it became clear that the lowest bid was not the best bid. Many times the low bid can turn out to be more expensive in the long run. The review committee felt this was the case with (the low bid), and ultimately made the recommendation of the best bid to the superintendent. After reviewing the process, the superintendent found the review committee’s work to be in line with Fayette County’s Board of Education policies, and made the recommendation to the board to proceed.”

Additionally, the school system had worked with Precision Turf previously in installing a turf field at Sandy Creek High School, the first for the county. Though it was not a major contributing factor in the bid award, Assistant Superintendent Mike Sanders said that prior experience working with a company does figure into the scoring for better or worse. In the case of Precision Turf, the School System was pleased with the work they did on Sandy Creek, both in quality and timeliness.

The specificity of the field from the bid proposal was called a sign that the county already had their winner in mind by Fox 5. Not so, said Melinda Berry-Dreisbach, Public Information Specialist for the Board of Education. That also dates back to the successful project. They were very pleased with Sandy Creek’s field and wanted the same for their other schools.

“When bidding the project for the other high schools, the committee took the same specs from (Sandy Creek) since the field was performing to expectations,” she said, adding, “Sprinturf, an installer of Field Turf (the manufacturer of the product), indicated to the committee that they could not meet the specs, so an addendum was created to enable Sprinturf to bid on the project.”

The report also harps on what would seem to be a missing bid bond from Precision Turf, a must for any bidder. According to Berry-Dreisbach, there was a bid bond supplied, but it was mistakenly left out on the report.

While the school system says their process was fair, they do not say the same for the Fox 5 report. The piece portrays them as uncooperative and avoiding the inquiry. The school system assures that all documents and information requested were supplied.

“It is standard operational procedure for our district to funnel Open Records Requests through one point of contact, and for the school system it is Public Information Officer, Ms. Melinda Berry-Dreisbach,” says the letter., adding that the piece falsely implies that Berry-Dreisbach refused to answer questions on camera. “At no point did Ms. Berry-Dreisbach ever refuse or say ‘no comment.’ The footage shown of her is from an unrelated story that another FOX 5 News reporter did earlier in the school year.”

Christopher Dunn

Managing Editor Christopher Dunn has been with the Fayette County News since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Victory magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.