May 9, 2013

Maine school board balks at security system overrun costs

The members deadlock on covering the $165,000 balance in SAD 51 for overspending they did not approve.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Two months after the installation of a $276,000 security system in Cumberland and North Yarmouth schools, questions remain about how the cost grew far beyond the original estimate without the school board's knowledge and whether the project should have been put out for competitive bids.

The SAD 51 school board deadlocked Monday on retroactively approving $165,000 in spending for the security system, which in January was projected to cost $50,000.

Superintendent Bob Hasson covered part of the cost overrun by using money from a contingency fund, without board approval. He is now seeking approval for the rest of the cost.

Hasson has proposed funding the $165,000 balance, which can't be paid with contingency money, by spreading the cost over six years.

The board's 4-4 vote on Monday pushed the question to its next meeting, on May 20.

"It boils down to trust and communication," said Jim Moulton, a board member who voted not to approve the spending. "It's my duty to represent the people of this district to ... find out what happened. I've asked in many different ways, and I haven't gotten answers."

Hasson said he takes responsibility for not letting the board know about the cost overrun.

"The project grew as we added more of the enhancements," he said Thursday in an interview. "I'm responsible for everything."

Some board members said they believe the spending was warranted, if not a bargain, considering the high stakes.

"There was an urgency, there was a fear, there was a desire to make sure students, staff and administrators were safe," said board member Martha Leggat. "What more can we ask for in the leader of the ship, the captain, who is making those big decisions?"

The security system, proposed in response to the school shootings Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn., called for electronic locks on exterior doors of the district's four schools. The school board approved that plan, for $50,000.

But by the time the final invoice was given to the district on March 1 by SURV, the Westbrook-based vendor that installed the system, the cost was $275,867.29. The project had grown to include electronic cameras, computer and server upgrades, and other measures outside the scope of the original plan.

SURV was hired and the work was ordered without a bidding process or a contract. Although the district's policies call for such a process, there is an exception for circumstances that require immediate action.

The lack of bidding has frustrated at least one businessman, Charlie Tartre of Exactitude Inc. in Cumberland, who said his security company would have bid on the project.

Hasson, school board co-chairs Jeff Porter and Bill Richards, and Finance Director Scott Poulin are expected to meet before the board's next meeting.

 

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

mbyrne@pressherald.com

 

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