Bus Contract Dispute May Head to Court
LOWELL -- Officials for PrideStar EMS Inc. say they’re ready to sue a competitor -- North Reading Transportation Inc. -- over the city’s special-education busing contract controversy.
PrideStar’s attorney sent a cease-and-desist letter to NRT’s counsel on Friday, stating they have prepared a civil complaint against the rival busing firm. PrideStar’s attorney says they will file the lawsuit if NRT continues to engage in “persistently egregious tortuous activity.”
PrideStar is claiming that NRT has intentionally interfered with their Lowell Public Schools’ special-education busing contract, unfair competition, defamation and other violations of state law.
″...NRT has repeatedly sought to undermine Pridestar’s performance of the contract, damage its reputation, and interfere with its relationship with the city, giving rise to the numerous potential claims...” Michael Gallagher, PrideStar’s attorney, wrote in the cease-and-desist letter.
Gallagher has said that NRT’s “defamatory and malicious” letters have sparked a major cloud of suspicion about PrideStar.
In early July, NRT officials sent a letter to state Inspector General Glenn Cunha making numerous complaints about PrideStar’s performance since it was awarded a contract to provide in-district special-education transportation for the Lowell Public Schools.
PrideStar has since issued its own letter to the inspector general, discussing the numerous “wholesale fabrications” that NRT claims about PrideStar.
The NRT-PrideStar dispute has been building for months after NRT was bypassed for the School Department’s special-education transportation contract.
PrideStar, based in Lowell, won the contract last November for $9.7 million over three years. A month earlier, NRT had bid about $1.4 million less over the three-year period.
This contract controversy came in the wake of a 5-year-old student being left on a SP&R Transportation bus for five hours. The School Committee decided to terminate the SP&R special-education transportation contract, and award it to PrideStar.
Special-education transportation contracts are exempt from the state’s Chapter 30B bidding law, meaning the contract does not have to be awarded to the lowest bidder. The School Committee voted for a more expensive contract months before the Lowell Public Schools faced a $2.5 million budget shortfall and slashed positions.
NRT’s letter to the inspector general urges the state to give its opinion as soon as possible, claiming that a chaotic situation has ensued since Pridestar took over the contract in February. The School Committee will not take any action in connection with the PrideStar contract until Cunha weighs in, the letter states.
However, Gallagher emphasized that there’s no “critical need” for action and there’s no special-education transportation “chaos.”
In addition to the contract going to the higher bidder, NRT lawyer Anthony Metaxas has stated that PrideStar had zero experience “providing bus transportation of pupils for any municipality, let alone a city the size of Lowell.”
In response, Gallagher said PrideStar’s has extensive experience providing specialty transportation for behaviorally-challenged and medically-fragile students in Lawrence, Chelmsford, Tewksbury, Billerica, Burlington, and Woburn.
Furthermore, Gallagher has slammed NRT’s initial proposal, saying it would have been impossible to service Lowell’s 950 SPED students with the company’s 30-bus proposal.
At the end of the letter Gallagher sent to NRT on Friday, he writes: “PrideStar therefore demands that NRT and each of its representatives shall immediately: cease and desist from making any such (or similar) false and malicious statements; cease and desist from interfering with PrideStar’s advantageous business and contractual relations, engaging in unfair competition, and engaging in any other unlawful conduct.”
NRT officials did not immediately respond to the cease-and-desist letter on Monday.
Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.