Panel gets down to nuts, bolts of RFP for education consultant
With a draft document in front of them, the Warwick School Committee’s Request For Proposal (RFP) subcommittee began to flesh out the items they feel need to be in their request for an educational consultant to come into the district and evaluate the education and facility needs of the school district.
During their meeting last Tuesday evening, each member of the committee received a physical copy of the draft document put together by subcommittee members Jennifer Mann, Neena Savage and Dean Burdon. Mann, a former director of planning for Care New England, Savage, an attorney, and Burdon, a CPA with experience writing RFPs, each brought their unique experience and expertise to creating a comprehensive draft that the committee would work off of to form a final RFP, which needs to be presented to the School Committee at their June 10 meeting.
“It gives us some structure so we can look at what we have and what we need to add,” said subcommittee chairwoman and School Committee member Karen Bachus about having the draft for meetings. “This has been such a blessing to have such excellent expertise working so hard on this. They believe in the school system and have done wonderful work.”
The majority of the meeting had Savage explaining a breakdown of the draft, with input from Mann and Burdon. Savage explained that each of the three had their own draft documents and parts of each were taken into account. The structure of Burdon’s, the references to facilities from Mann’s, and the educational, curriculum desires of Savage’s were compiled together.
“We decided it was a good starting point,” said Savage.
According to the draft, the request is for “a professional educational planning firm to provide a comprehensive long-term master education and facilities plan for the Warwick School Department.”
The draft RFP is broken down into five parts: the introduction and general information with background on the current state of the School Department; the scope of services required by the consultant, including firm qualifications; project goals and require reports; proposal instructions, the evaluation and selection process; and terms and agreements.
Although a brief overview and discussion occurred during the meeting, it was determined that each committee member would read through the draft on their own and send suggestions and edits to Savage this week. Savage would then update the document for discussion at the next subcommittee meeting.
In general, the subcommittee seemed pleased with the work done so far.
“The flow of the document goes straight through and it starts out with who we are. Next step is it takes what we’re looking for then beats down to what you’re going to do to get us there and how we’re going to help you to get there. Then at the end, how much is this thing going to cost us,” said Burdon, complementing Mann and Savage for their ability to take the three documents and put them together for an excellent starting point.
At first glance, Jennifer Ahearn, School Committee and subcommittee member, complimented the group on what she called a very comprehensive document.
“This is more than we normally do,” said Ahearn.
Ahearn suggested adding the need for phases and costs for each phase into the requirements for the plan delivered by the consultant at the end of this process. She felt providing detailed phases (5 years, 10 years, 15 years) to achieve a 20-year plan would help with not only the overall vision for the future of the district, but help with planning the required cost for each year.
Bachus agreed, adding that she felt a committee should be kept in place to monitor the final comprehensive plan and ensure the phases are being completed, possibly an annual review.
“We need to build that in. We can’t allow this to happen again. Right now we have schools that are in a chaotic mess,” said Bachus. “If we had done just plain upkeep maintenance, a lot of these issues wouldn’t be coming to the floor today.”
Burdon did share his one concern, stemming from comments about relying on the expertise of the hired consultant but still being firm in what the district wants to see at the end.
“That is something we’ve got to tell them what we want, ‘cause if we don’t, they’re going to give you what they want and it might not be what we want at the end,” said Burdon. “We don’t want our bias in it, meaning keep schools open, shut schools down. It just has to tell them ‘you got to tell us what we want to know. Give us some options here.’”
Mann and Burdon further said that the RFP should include areas that need to be studied and the questions the district has, but it cannot include specifics to be included in the final plan created by the consultant.
In the portion of the document addressing cost, Burdon suggested asking for hourly fees for the individuals so overtime or extra work can be considered on an hourly rate.
The School Committee has allotted $150,000 for the hiring of a consultant for the project, but Bachus predicted they would be able to double that amount. In her research, Bachus has seen other school districts complete similar initiatives for between $150,000 and $500,000.
There was also a brief mention of timeline for the RFP; in his opinion, Burdon thought giving 60 days for consultants to properly respond to this comprehensive RFP was appropriate.
At first glance, Bachus and Burdon saw a need for a specific mention of a transportation study in the RFP request since a big part of facilities is the need for students to get to the building. Bachus also mentioned the need for a little more curriculum study, especially since there is no mention of Common Core in the RFP and looking at how that will integrate into the system.
As for transportation, Bachus would like the consultant to look at how feasible alternative options for Warwick are, such as different school bus companies or creating an agreement with RIPTA similar to the one Providence Mayor Angel Taveras created for Providence schools.
“I don’t know if that’s something Warwick can do,” said Bachus, explaining that the deal is much cheaper than agreements with First Student and the money would stay in state. “It might be worthwhile to look into.”
The committee also agreed that current documents such as the city’s Comprehensive Plan, the Warwick Schools Strategic Plan, financials, IT technology inventory and Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) regulations need to be included in an appendix of some kind with the RFP. By showing a consultant what information or studies have already been completed, the cost could go down.
Ahearn agreed supplying the current documents, as well as contact information for important players in Warwick Schools such as Chief Budget Officer Anthony Ferrucci and Superintendent Richard D’Agostino, would be helpful.
“Those are all things they can look to while developing their plan,” said Ahearn.
The discussion also briefly moved back into budgeting and creating a contingency plan depending on how much the district can afford.
“The key when you’re doing it [is] to design flexibility into everything you do. That’s something facility planners are very good at,” said Mann, continuing to explain capital expenditures can be accounted for. “Each option could have a contingency plan built into it, and we could ask for that.”
Briefly, during talk of unforeseen future issues, Bachus brought up the news that Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian is supporting the creation of a Kent County Mayoral Academy charter school. Although it has been reported that the school would be in Coventry, not Warwick, it could still take Warwick students and funding away from public schools.
“It’s very concerning,” said Bachus. “This is a real scary issue for us at a time where we’re trying to plan and improve what we have. We’re being undermined by our own city.”
Overall, Bachus said she is feeling pretty good about the progress made by the subcommittee.
“We may need to ramp it up a bit, maybe add one more meeting,” said Bachus. “We need to get this done right, but we are under a deadline.”
The subcommittee will not meet tonight due to the School Committee meeting. They have meetings scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Administration Building on May 20, May 27 and June 3 leading up to their deadline of the June 10 School Committee meeting. Bachus said if an additional meeting is necessary, that would be determined during the May 20 meeting.