- Effective school procurement procedures — requesting, sourcing, purchasing and receiving materials or services — can have positive impacts on student learning, ease staff workloads and save money, according to a report from Chiefs for Change, a membership organization of state and local education leaders.
- The report describes one unnamed large district that struggled with procurement staff shortages, cumbersome approval processes, unclear timelines and other barriers. By prioritizing procurement initiatives that would have a high impact, the district has shortened bid process timelines by digitizing paper submissions and accelerated purchase orders under $500.
- As school systems nationwide aim for efficient and speedy spending of federal emergency pandemic dollars, leaders should evaluate their procurement programs to ensure quality investment of these one-time funds, the report recommends.
“Procurement was one of the biggest challenges our district faced on the operations side,” Michael Hinojosa, the former superintendent of Dallas Independent School District in Texas and a member of Chiefs for Change, said in a statement. “It affected staff’s ability to do their work and teach kids. I really wanted us to fix this, because procurement impacts every student, every teacher, and everyone in the district."
The report details eight procurement goals to help district leaders determine what's working and what needs improvement. Under those guidelines, procurement procedures should:
- Demonstrate a clear and measurable vision.
- Follow all relevant laws and regulations.
- Result in all requests being filled.
- Provide high-quality customer service for end users.
- Operate in alignment with the district's environmental, social and governance goals.
- Match the district's strategic goals.
- Include enough staff and technology supports.
- Provide value and savings to the district.
According to the report, the district mentioned was able to transform its procurement system by reducing high workloads, multi-layered approval processes, and manual intensive activities like copying and scanning.
As a result, it decreased the bid timeline by more than 80%, and vendor satisfaction increased. The district also accelerated the approval process of purchase orders under $500, freeing up the equivalent of one part-time employee, the report said.
"While the district is continuing its progress, early evidence shows that given the opportunity, district procurement divisions can transform culture and processes to significantly improve performance and deliver more and higher-quality services for students," the report said.
To help school systems address pandemic recovery efforts, Congress provided $189.5 billion in three spending allocations known collectively as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund. The obligation deadline for ESSER I, the first of the three spending allocations, is Friday.
A review of 46 school districts by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Inspector General found that as of March 2022, those districts had spent about 95% — or more than $19.2 million — of the $20.2 million in ESSER I funds they were awarded.