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School Pays Contractor $55/hr for Secretary to Open an Envelope

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Sometimes private contractors see schools and their multi-million dollar budgets as great sources of potential revenue.

And because schools rarely employ people with business sense or experience, they sometimes hire contractors to perform major projects without seeking competitive bids or doing thorough background checks on the companies.

Then the cost overrun bills start arriving and more tax dollars than necessary go out the door.

In Hillsborough, New Jersey, school board members were recently “shocked” and “insulted” that the district’s architectural contractor recently submitted invoices totaling about $19,000, according to the Hillsborough Beacon.

Apparently there was some confusion about what the contactor should charge the district on an hourly basis, and what should be part of the overall project cost. The news report did not say what type of project the architectural firm is doing for the district.

Board member Gregory Gillette claimed the district was being charged “$55 per hour for a secretary to open the envelope that contains the check we sent them.” He also accused the architectural firm of charging “for the amount of time (company officials) waited in the hall before they could see (the superintendent) Dr. Schiff.”

Board member Judith Haas also complained, “One of the most obnoxious things is they bill out an (subcontracting) engineering firm, and we get billed, plus 15 percent. It smacks of them not wanting our business. I find it very insulting.”

The taxpayers of the district should find it very insulting that the school board is discovering these problems so late in the game.

Is this firm new? Does it have a positive reputation in the community? Did the school board bother checking on these questions before hiring this company?

Somehow we doubt it.

We assume that the Hillsborough school board used competitive bidding to hire this company. But the bidding process involves more than identifying the low bid and awarding the contract accordingly.

Good stewards of public dollars employ due diligence to make sure they’re hiring a reputable contractor that does quality work and doesn’t consistently go over budget. That way they know who they are hiring and what they’re going to get for their money.

And taxpayers will have confidence that their school is making the most of the hard earned dollars they’re sending them. If public schools want the trust of the public, they should start by carefully handling the public’s dollars.

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