NEW BRITAIN - City-based Dattco Inc. has lost its bid in court to stop New Britain school officials from hiring a new school bus company.
Dattco filed papers in New Britain Superior Court earlier this year seeking an injunction to stop the New Britain Board of Education from going ahead with plans to use Ohio-based First Student Inc. as its bus company. The board also hired Specialty Transportation for special-needs bus service.
In his decision, Judge Robert Young cited testimony from Dattco and the school system indicating that the bus company refused to agree to the same price as First Student, which came in with the low bid for the five-year school bus contract.
Dattco has provided school bus service for the school system since 1971, but school officials decided in 2013 that the next contract would go out to bid in the hopes of saving money.
“We attempted multiple times to match First Student bid,” said Dattco President Donald DeVivo. “The difference in the price was 1.8 percent. We requested on numerous occasions to meet with the board and were turned away.”
Even after discussions with Dattco, which had the opportunity to meet the low bid, the New Britain-based company was still about $5 million higher than First Student, board Vice President Nick Mercier said.
“Everyone on the board is sad that Dattco didn’t agree to the low bid and we had to go with a non-local new bidder,” Mercier said. “I felt the judge’s ruling vindicated us. We did try to work repeatedly with Dattco throughout the process.”
Dattco contended in its court filings that, although the school system has a right to put the bus service out to bid, local companies have an opportunity to meet the low bid.
Dattco alleged the board used favoritism when making the selection, but Young said, if anything, the board was favoring Dattco by allowing the New Britain company repeated discussions on lowering its bid.
City officials said Dattco kept placing conditions on their bid reduction including requiring the city to pay for a certain number of buses. Young concluded that Dattco didn’t have any standing in the case, because the company wasn’t claiming school officials engaged in any fraud or corruption when they awarded the contact, and therefore couldn’t seek an injunction.
Dattco also didn’t offer any evidence of favoritism, Young said.
The case was decided quickly because the school system needed to have its school bus company in place by July 1 when the contract goes into effect. The five-year contract is worth about $50 million, Mercier said.
Dattco is now working on placing the 160 employees who did New Britain bus runs in other areas the company serves, DeVivo said.
Dattco has been based in New Britain since 1924, DeVivo said. “No credence was given to that,” he added.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.