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Sept. 20, 2021

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State auditor: Vancouver Public Schools in violation of bidding, procurement laws

Work cited was at elementary schools, Lieser Campus

By , Columbian staff writer

Vancouver Public Schools was the subject of two findings by the Washington State Auditor’s Office for lacking adequate controls to ensure compliance with state procurement laws on public works projects and competitive bidding for contractors during the 2019-20 school year.

The findings from an April 29 report were based on now-completed construction projects at Harney, Hough and Lincoln elementary schools and the Lieser Campus.

In September 2019, Team Construction was awarded a $1.675 million contract for construction on four classrooms at Harney Elementary. Later, the company did remodel work of the school’s entryway and Family-Community Resource Center for $254,004, which the auditor’s office said required a formal procurement process “to comply with competitive contracting requirements” since it was not part of the original bid specifications.

“Because the work was not part of the original bid specifications, this change order should have gone through a separate procurement process to comply with competitive contracting requirements,” the report read. “When the district does not comply with state bid law requirements, it cannot guarantee all interested parties had the opportunity to bid or that the lowest possible price was obtained.”

In July 2020, the school board approved Inline Construction Co. of Aloha, Ore., for remodel work at Hough and Lincoln elementaries and a modernization project at Lieser Campus, all totaling $8.8 million. The auditor’s office found Inline Construction did not meet all responsibility criteria to be granted public works contracts.

“The District did not have a process to ensure current responsible bidder requirements were checked prior to awarding public works contracts,” the report said. “Also, staff responsible for authorizing change orders lacked sufficient knowledge to determine if additional construction work represented a new project that required competitive bidding.”

VPS called the findings disappointing and a “minor oversight.” It did admit a technical deficit on one aspect of a finding, but did state its failure on the details saved taxpayer dollars. VPS also questioned the auditor’s office centering its focus on original bid specifications, and how it seemed to acknowledge that was “purely subjective.”

The auditor’s office called the district’s statement incorrect and encouraged the district to seek legal counsel for future compliance with state laws.

“It is the district’s responsibility to have procedures to ensure compliance with state laws governing purchasing activity, including identifying a change order which constituted a separate project that should have been competitively bid,” the report said.