School Board Heeds Resident’s Request, Postpones Vote On Natural Gas Contract

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The Board of Education Nov. 20 took the advice of Somerset resident Skip Schaeffer and postponed action on a proposed natural gas contract for further study.

A scheduled vote to rejoin a statewide consortium to buy natural gas starting next year was postponed by the Board of Education at its Nov. 20 meeting.

The board took the action on the recommendation of interim schools Superintendent Lee Seitz.

Seitz, as well as all board members and members of the administration and township government, received an email earlier in the day from Somerset resident Skip Schaeffer, in which Schaeffer outlined a number of reasons for the vote to be postponed.

Basically, Schaeffer said the board has down well over the past four years with its natural gas contracts, and that re-joining the New Jersey School Boards-led consortium – known as the Alliance for Competitive Energy Services (ACES) – may result in the district paying more for natural gas than it has to.

In the email, Schaeffer, who said he is an energy industry consultant for business, said that he was able to bring contractors to the district, through former business administrator John Calavano, who provided natural gas at prices lower than what the consortium could offer at the time.

“I’m able to report that four years ago my brokers were able to source multiple natural gas bids that were lower than the ACES rates and Mr. Calavano chose the lowest one,” Schaeffer wrote. “For the last four years (two separate contracts with two different suppliers, I might add) the district has purchased its natural gas needs at rates averaging 10-12 percent lower than any ACES bid. Annual savings in the area of natural gas has conservatively averaged $60,000 to $70,000 a year for the district for the last four years.”

“My recommendation to the Board is to vote to reject this agenda item and direct the interim business administrator to explore less expensive energy alternatives to ACES,” Schaeffer wrote. “It’s proven that better solutions exist.”

Schaeffer also objected to the length of the proposed contract, 3 1/2 years.

The proposed contract, he said, “handcuffs the district for far too long in length.”

Seitz said after the meeting that Schaeffer’s questions were “legitimate.”

“Until I have those questions answered, I don’t want to move forward,” Seitz said. “I’m hoping we can move quickly and put this on the agenda as quickly as possible.

Schaeffer thanked the board for heeding his request after Seitz’s recommendation that the contract vote be postponed.

“I commend you for saying you need to investigate this contract a little more closely to ensure the district is saving as much money as it can on the next gas contract,” he said.

Township Councilman Philip Kramer (D-Ward 3), who also received Schaeffer’s email, said the township may be following suit.

Kramer said that he’d spoken with township administrator Bob Vornlocker, who said he would also investigate whether the township could save money by seeking other natural gas contractors.

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