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Change sought in purchasing policy in schools

September 20, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

The Washington County Board of Education will be able to buy equipment, supplies and consulting services that cost less than $10,000 without getting bids or price quotes if it approves a proposed policy change.

The School Board's current policy allows staff to use purchase orders for school improvements, equipment and supplies that cost less than $2,000. For more expensive items, staff members must obtain quotes from at least three vendors.

Some board members and staff agreed last week that the limit needs to be raised.

"Vendors don't want to submit quotes that low," said Human Resources Director Phil Ray.

"When you're talking about school improvement supplies, that's a really low figure," said Paul Bailey, the board's vice president.

Executive Director of Support Services William McKinley proposed increasing the limit to $5,000. Bailey suggested raising it to $10,000.

The board favored the change but postponed taking action when McKinley suggested a change in bid procedure.

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The policy requires staff to follow the state's guidelines for all purchases over $15,000. Bids are generally awarded to the low bidder, but some exceptions are allowed. The board's policy requires it to approve all exceptions.

For at least two years, the board has approved all recommendations, whether they were low bidders or not. Staff members said bringing every bid to the board was cumbersome.

"It really just stalled work getting done," said Director of Facilities Management Dennis McGee. He gave the board an example in which he got a low bid for a budgeted item on July 20. The purchase was made Aug. 20 because it required board approval, he said.

In August, the board held a business meeting once. It usually meets twice a month and purchases are put off for bids that come in during the intervals.

"Our main objective here is to move forward with projects," said McKinley. Since board policy does not require it to examine every bid, he suggested only exceptions should need approval.

Board member Herbert J. Hardin said the board has a responsibility to review all major purchases. "If we get out of the business of reviewing bids, we're going to get ourselves in trouble," he said.

"We do have a responsibility to be aware of what's happening when it comes to finances," said board member B. Marie Byers.

"We're not trying to keep information from you," said McKinley.

"We need to act as our policy says we act, otherwise we need to change the policy," said Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr.

The board is scheduled to discuss the proposed changes this morning during a work session. It is expected to vote after a first reading at the business meeting tonight.

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