SHIRLEY -- Ayer Selectman Gary Luca and Shirley Joint Boards of Selectmen representative Rico Cappucci made a brief presentation at a recent Ayer-Shirley School Committee meeting.
At issue, they said, is the contract with MassDevelopment to educate Devens students in the Harvard Public Schools.
Cappucci said that during discussions about the police contract with MassDevelopment Executive Vice President of Devens Operations George Ramirez, it came to his attention that the Harvard Public Schools contract with Devens "was never put on the table."
His opinion, he said, is that "all contracts should be put on the table so everyone can get a bite of the apple."
The new Harvard-MassDevelopment contract, negotiated last summer, replaces two prior contracts that expired on June 30, . One prior contract covered students in grades 6 through 12, and a second contract covered students in pre-k through 5.
The new agreement merges those two separate contracts into one pre-K through 12 contract. The term of the new contract will run from July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2015. Devens students have the option to remain in Harvard through to graduation even if the contract switches to another school district.
"The contract between Harvard and MassDevelopment given out by MassDevelopment was about $1.3 million, which is a goodly sum of money," stated Cappucci.
"I went to the Board of Selectmen in Ayer, and Gary (Luca) immediately took the gavel and said this was unfair.
He added that he believes that the contract is illegal because "it was done without anyone's knowledge."
He went on to say that he would like to challenge the contract. "Ayer and Shirley will stand behind you with this quest and give you a fair shot at it," he told the committee. "You may not want that contract, but they have an automatic renewal. At my age at 70, I don't want to be around at 90 to see if you get it.
The new contract states that the agreement will automatically renew for additional terms of one school calendar year after the initial term. After that, either party may elect not to renew the agreement by providing written notice to the other by July 1, two school calendar years prior to the effective date of the nonrenewal.
"This is something you need to look up and say no, no, no. Ayer Shirley is going to stand tall here and decide if we want to bid on this contract," he declared, adding that he felt that the contract was negotiated in secret.
"They are a public entity," replied Ayer-Shirley School Committee Chairwoman Joyce Reischutz.
"It was done under the table," Cappucci responded.
"Whether we want it or not, we want to see if it would be advantageous to the system," said Luca, adding that he believes that the school system should at least have the opportunity to bid.
A public document
Reischutz said the School Committee had asked to see the contract, but that a formal copy had not yet been received. The six-page contract is available at www.psharvard.org/superintendent/documents/devens_contract.pdf.
Cappucci said he would have copies the following day to give to School Committee member Jim Quinty.
"You just need the opportunity. It's fair, it's transparent and it's what the law is," he said.
School Committee member Susan Therriault recalled that, several years ago, Shirley lost the contract with a much lower bid than Harvard's. She said she would like to know the criteria for MassDevelopment's decision.
"The excuse was that our system is rundown and we needed to do something about it and we are. The people have spoken and we are doing something about that. We are going to have a system second-to-none," Cappucci replied.
"Kids are choicing-in, so the ability to teach is there, and it's kind of shortsighted if they are looking the other way," added Luca.
"It's not a mystery why they went with Harvard," responded School Committee Vice Chairman Pat Kelly. "They went with the reputation."
Ayer-Shirley has a representative who attends the Devens Educational Advisory Council meetings, he said, "and we were aware last year that bids were not going out to other districts."
Not a bid
"(The Harvard-MassDevelopment contract) is not a bid," ASRSD Superintendent Carl Mock explained. "It's an RFP that could be extended for a year at a time, but I think this is a new contract, not just an extension with some modifications to it. It will be interesting to see the new time frame for renewals thereafter. This was a new contract."
He added that the School Committee would have a copy of the contract by the next meeting and would put it on the agenda.
"From that moment forward, what is the action?" asked Kelly.
Cappucci suggested that the School Committee go to the Department of Education to report that the district "never got a shot at this contract. I think the governor would look at it closely and say you can't do this. It's not the way business is done."
DEAC and MassDevelopment respond
Later asked for comment on Cappucci's assertions regarding the legitimacy of the contract, DEAC Chairwoman Maureen Babcock responded that the new contract was done in the best interest of Devens and by the direction of Devens residents.
"The DEAC performs an annual community education survey to gather data in order to advise MassDevelopment on the education of Devens children," she said.
"The DEAC reported to the MassDevelopment Board of Directors that the Devens 2012 Education Survey indicated very high support for the continuance of our contracts with the Harvard School District, but that the cost of the contracts was a concern brought forth by a number of residents.
"The new contract was done to reduce the education cost for our community while providing educational continuity for the children of Devens."
According to MassDevelopment Communications Director Kelsey Abbruzzese, Section 26 of Chapter 498, which addresses education in Devens, includes no requirement that a contract to educate Devens school-aged children be competitively procured, such as through a bidding or RFP process.
"This portion of Devens' governing legislation also charges the DEAC with advising MassDevelopment about education," she said. "The DEAC includes representatives from the school districts of the Towns of Ayer, Shirley, and Harvard, and four Devens residents.
"The DEAC and Devens residents advised MassDevelopment to enter into a new contract with the Harvard School Committee. Public meetings of the DEAC, the MassDevelopment Board of Directors, and of the Harvard School Committee discussed this issue.
"Following these discussions, MassDevelopment and Harvard agreed on the current contract to continue the education services provided by Harvard to Devens students."