TARGET 8: Embattled Hallsville School District did not put project out for bid

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HALLSVILLE — Hallsville School District parents expressed anger, sorrow and worry about proposed budget cuts that would reduce spending by $911,675 from the 2016 budget year to the 2017 budget year.

A full room of parents showed up to a school board meeting in February, but were left with more questions than answers. KOMU 8 News investigated how the district got to its current financial situation.

February school board meeting

At the meeting, Hallsville School Board President Susan Daly announced Superintendent John Robertson resigned the day before. She also said Robertson had been doing the budget for years, but said the district always passes annual audits.

"Every year when we have our audit, which is required by the state of Missouri, we get high marks every single time," Daly said. 

At the meeting, Daly said the district got into the current financial situation because of a construction project that was passed in 2013 and completed in August 2015.

The construction project

Hallsville School District Director of Communications Marci Minor said the project added a new wing to the high school that has four new classrooms with state of the art technology.

KOMU 8 News filed a Sunshine Request for the request for bid (RFB) and accompanying bids for the project. The request for bid was first advertised on Jan. 28, 2014. The request said all bids would be received by the Hallsville School District until Feb. 11. 

The district received 13 bids and ultimately chose to go with River City Construction. 

However, Hallsville parent Terry Montague requested all documents pertaining to the construction project. He noticed a lot of invoices to B&B Services, but did not see the request for bid for that project in the files the district gave him. 

So, KOMU 8 News filed a Sunshine Request for the RFB for the work done by B&B Services. The Hallsville School District Secretary replied via email, "We did not have a bid for work done by B&B Services."

According to the Missouri Revised Statutes Section 177.086, on estimated expenditures $15,000 or more, the school district shall advertise for bids in at least two daily newspapers. 

KOMU 8 News requested all of the invoices for B&B Services. The invoices show the district paid B&B Services a total of $531,554, a much greater amount than $25,000. 

KOMU 8 News reached out the school district to see if there was an exemption or any reason there was no request for bid on the work done by B&B Services, but the district would not provide comment.

B&B Services ties to the project

The original request for bid said all questions should be directed to Eric Westhues of Connell Architecture. Connell Architecture provided the pre-bid estimate to total $1,660,000. River City Construction put in the bid for $1,701,000 and was chosen to do the project.

Since B&B Services worked on the project without a request for bid, KOMU 8 News looked to see if there were any ties between B&B Services and the district. 

The Secretary of State's website shows the B&B Services is partially owned by Eric Westhues, the same person who was listed as working with Connell Architecture. 

KOMU 8 News reached out to Westheus's office Thursday to get more details on the contracts; he was out of the office.

Reaching out to the district

KOMU 8 News reached out to the Hallsville School District all week trying to request an interview with acting Superintendent John Downs, who the district said was the appropriate person to respond. Minor said Downs was out of town all day Wednesday, and Thursday was the faculty professional development day, so Downs was busy. 

Minor said, "Even though he cannot meet in person, we are happy to provide answers, in writing, to questions you may have. You can email those to me, and I will be sure to send a response so you can wrap up your story."

Minor also addressed the documents KOMU 8 News requested saying, "If your questions are specific to the documents you have recently requested through the Sunshine Law, we cannot discuss those due to potential litigation." 

KOMU 8 News then sent the district questions about why there was no request for bid for work done by B&B Services. KOMU 8 News also asked if the district was aware of Westhues' connection to both Connell Architecture and B&B Services. The questions were sent Wednesday night. Downs emailed KOMU 8 News back to say a lawyer would be in touch with the reporter. 

Thursday afternoon, KOMU 8 News received a call from the Hallsville School District's attorney, Amy Clendennen. She said Downs is not the best person to answer the questions because he was not the superintendent at the time of the construction project. She said Daly is the best person to talk to, but she is out of town until March 28. 

KOMU 8 News emailed and called Daly Thursday and will continue to follow this story if Daly has any comment once she gets back to town.

Editor's Note: The statute number referencing bids for school districts has been corrected, as has the corresponding minimum for a bid process.