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Articles: Purchasing

In the last few years, smartphones have moved quickly from banned to embraced in K12 schools as educators have realized that mobile learning devices engage students, enhance the teaching of 21st-century skills, and instantly check for understanding with student response applications. Districts have started upgrading their wireless networks to accommodate one-to-one technology initiatives, while others follow a “bring your own device” (BYOD) policy.

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho

As legislators in Florida gather this month in Tallahassee, they have a unique opportunity to empower our students with technology that will enhance their education. Our legislators have the capacity to provide students with digital content at a fraction of the cost of traditional textbooks.

Districts in the area covered by the LEARN Regional Educational Service Center in southeastern Connecticut for the past four years have boosted their ability to save money on bulk technology purchases through online reverse auctions. Such auctions are designed so that vendors try to out-lowball one another to get the job in school districts.

County, regional and statewide education service centers that provide shared purchasing power and technical support have been around for as long as a half-century, and some have helped districts gain lower prices on technology through economies of scale since the heyday of the Apple II. But the combination of tighter-than-ever budgets and greater-than-ever needs for computing and other leading-edge technology has made the opportunities that education service centers provide all the more valuable in the past three years.

In the 1990s, school districts invested all they could in desktop computers that had plenty of horsepower, since applications and data were all stored locally on individual machines. By the 2000s, the individual machines had become less critical as districts moved to server-based networks.

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School administrators are faced with a wide variety of choices and a huge market when it comes to products and technology. According to a report issued in March by market research firm Compass Intelligence, school districts spend over $18 billion annually on IT-related purchases, and the market is projected to grow to nearly $21 billion by 2015.

In an effort both to fight the ever-rising costs of fuel and to go green, Lee’s Summit (Mo.) R-7 School District has become the first district in the United States to operate an all-electric distribution fleet. After beginning a discussion in 2008 on ways to reduce its dependency on oil, in August 2010 the district received four delivery trucks, one van, and one refrigerator truck—all powered by electricity. After converting the cost of electric power to the cost of diesel, the district spends roughly $ 0.11 per gallon compared to $2.25.

When President Obama first signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he took much criticism for spending more money—$787 billion more—when the nation was reeling from decades-old debt, a more than 9 percent unemployment rate and a mortgage crisis. But this measure has allowed public school district leaders to invest in cost-effective, energy-efficient facilities projects faster than they would have if they didn't have the federal funds.

The newly opened South Warren (Ky.) Middle and High School is is the largest insulated concrete form building in the nation.

For almost 30 years, thousands of Los Angeles Unified School students in the Mid-Wilshire district have been waking up early to be bused to schools farther away in their district. As of Sept. 13, those students are within walking distance of their new school complex, Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools. The complex cost $578 million, which makes it the most expensive school in LAUSD and perhaps the country. It contains six pilot schools for elementary through high school students at the site of the former Ambassador Hotel.

Under pressure to keep spending down but also keep pace with rapid technology changes, many districts are future-proofing their schools—trying to get the most out of their tech spending by providing solutions they will be able to use now and in the future without major, expensive infrastructure overhauls.

In a first-of-its-kind move, three school districts in Illinois have bonded together to be in the business of wind power. Their joint project not only could benefit the environment but could save millions of dollars.

When Manuel L. Isquierdo joined the Sunnyside (Ariz.) Unified School District (SUSD) as superintendent in 2007, school board president Louie Gonzales let him know that there was no time for a honeymoon period. He had to hit the ground running.

Over the last 18 months, school district purchasing offices across the country have been tightening the reins like never before while more top-level administrators get involved in the budget process. “When the economy really hit the skids, states got hit hard, so a lot of school districts were forced to make severe budget cuts,” says John Musso, executive director of the Association of School Business Officials International. “They stopped or reduced purchasing as much as they could on those discretionary items.

It’s no surprise that school districts are as vulnerable to fraud as the private sector or any other segment of government. Crimes in districts include collusion with outside vendors who provide kickbacks to employees, misuse of district-issued credit cards, embezzlement of district funds, and theft of district property.