After much digging, the cost of the Strategic Plan contract between the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center (CATEC) and consulting firm, The Bridge, Ltd. (The Bridge), has been uncovered. Area taxpayers shelled out $60,000 to The Bridge in exchange for Strategic Planning and Design services for CATEC.
A December 25 Daily Progress story detailed the working relationship between CATEC and The Bridge, including a description of the Strategic Model process implemented as a result of contracted work.
However, when queried about costs, the paper’s reporter was met with sealed lips and stony silence. Steve Koleszar, chair of the Albemarle County School Board, Willa Neale, vice-chair of the Charlottesville School Board, —both members of the CATEC Board—and Grant Tate, CEO of The Bridge all declined to disclose the contractual compensation from CATEC, prompting a scathing Daily Progress editorial, CATEC: Show us the money
The paper excoriated involved public officials for their secrecy:
What do you mean, the cost of consultants won’t be disclosed?
This is the public’s tax money that’s being spent, and it’s being spent on public education.
The cost of hiring consultants darn well ought to be disclosed.
A Schilling Show FOIA request to Albemarle County Schools sought copies of all responses to CATEC’s Request for Proposal (RFP), the RFP itself, and the center’s contract with The Bridge. Albemarle responded that no one in the system (apparently including Chairman Koleszar) had a copy of any of the requested documents, citing Charlottesville City finance as having “managed the RFP.” Charlottesville City also denied having copies of the requested documents, referring the inquiry to CATEC.
Adam Hastings, CATEC’s director, responded with a copy of all sought records.
According to information received from Hastings, in addition to The Bridge’s $60,000 response, CATEC received offers from three other entities, two of which bid substantially lower than did the awardee:
Bidder Bid Amount
ZELOS, Inc. $39,700
Thomas P. Miller and Associates $44,500
Metro Tribal $66,500
Via email, Mr. Hastings cited a community process for selecting the winning bidder:
You are correct that the awarded firm did not offer the lowest price in their proposal. This was a competitive negotiation process requesting proposals rather than bids; several criteria including price were used to evaluate the quality of the proposals (RFP Section V: “Evaluation and Award Criteria”). A nine-member team comprised of local business people and CATEC community members served as a Proposal Analysis Group to evaluate the proposals based on the criteria outlined in the RFP.
Notably, cost was given a “weight” of only 25% in the CATEC award process.
Competitive and price/cost issues aside, The Bridge’s proposal for CATEC hardly seems worth the money spent. According to the Daily Progress, the presented concepts for CATEC’s Strategic Plan are summarized as:
- an integrated model with a closer working relationship with nearby community colleges;
- a full-time model where students attend CATEC like any other secondary academic institution;
- a certification model where students can attain certificates for vocational training;
- a “center of excellence” model where CATEC houses job “experts” who look at future job requirements and translate those into school curriculum;
- and what Tate calls a “do-it-yourself model” where CATEC ultimately decides its own fate.
With the $60,000 winning bid 150% of the lowest bid and of questionably valuable content, it’s no wonder Willa Neale, Steve Koleszar, and Grant Tate were mum on the contract’s cost. When it comes to taxpayers, CATEC, and The Bridge the emperor clearly has no clothes—and the tailors are laughing all the way to the bank.