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The Board of Education is divided over whether school districts should have the option of soliciting and receiving competitive bids electronically.

Finding the least expensive contractors and suppliers on the Internet could save money by enlarging the bidding market, and the New York State School Boards Association supports a state law giving school districts this option.

But at least two Niagara Falls trustees are concerned that it would be detrimental to local bidders whose operations aren't big enough to compete with large corporations across America.

Trustees discussed the issue Thursday evening during a work session on how their delegates should vote during the School Boards Association's annual business meeting in Rochester from Oct. 19 to 21.

"Some guy from Pawtucket comes in with a low bid -- what do you know about him?" asked Mark Zito. "I say keep local people working, even at prevailing (higher) wages."

"It would just be a local option," said Roy W. Rogers, administrator for school business services, who outlined 20 issues that will be taken up in Rochester.

"If we receive a bid from Timbuktu that's ($1 under a local bid), are we required to accept it?" Russell Petrozzi asked.

"Yes, unless it doesn't meet our specifications," Rogers said.

"But it's still the low bid," said Russell Murgia.

"Our local vendors will always get beat by the big guys," Zito said. "It may take out the mom-and-pop businesses. Wait till your business goes south."

Murgia replied that sooner or later all public bidding will be done electronically.

Asked by School Board President Don J. King if the district still exercises "local preference" in awarding contracts, Rogers said it's done only to break a tie.

"The strong and the mighty will overcome the mom-and-pops," Zito said. "Our local economy is so bad that public business is the last thing keeping some of them going. They pay a lot of taxes."

Petrozzi agreed with Zito.

School Superintendent Carmen A. Granto said soliciting bids from out of state could mean the district might "lowball somebody and then have a hard time getting service from them." But he said he would welcome the option.

James Roscetti, an attorney for the board, said if electronic bidding were legal, the district could use it only when it wanted to.

Rogers estimated that 70 percent of the district's bidding work is done by local contractors. But Murgia speculated that, in real dollars, only 5 percent of the school budget goes to local contractors and suppliers.

In an informal poll, only Zito and Petrozzi voted against instructing the district's delegates -- King and Murgia -- to support the idea at the convention.

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