Archive for Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Board member reiterates concern about purchase policy

November 15, 2006

The school district's purchasing policy was the center of debate during Monday night's board meeting.

One school board member wants the district to tighten the reins on how the district shops and takes bids.

But Superintendent Richard Erickson defended the current process and asked the board to stick with it for another eight months, while the district completes a $25.3 million construction project.

At the Oct. 11 meeting of Tonganoxie school board, board member Ron Moore urged the district to set up a centralized purchasing system.

Moore complained that different employees were obtaining bids and doing "their own shopping." He said the district needed to have more control over how items are purchased, and how money is spent.

At Monday's school board meeting, Erickson presented a draft of recommended bidding procedures. Board members discussed the draft and agreed to consider it again at a future meeting.

During discussion Monday, Erickson said the school district has had to make an unusual number of purchases during the past 18 months, because of the district's $25.3 million school construction project.

Often the purchases met immediate needs, Erickson said. He noted construction manager Kris Roberts has worked closely with the district's technology director Carl Robison, maintenance director Bob Koontz and school board member Darlyn Hansen, whose firm, Microresources, has been hired to shop for the district.

The goal, Erickson said, has been to shop competitively.

"When we started this project a year and a half ago there was a deficit that was projected at about $2.5 million," Erickson said. "It was reduced and then it was reduced even further. I decided at that time that we needed to look at some alternative ways to stretch our dollars. And we have."

"Some folks have taken some heat because of it," Erickson said of the purchasing plan. But he said the procedure has saved the district money.

With the building project nearing completion, the deficit is estimated at about $416,000. Erickson said the district is setting aside the funds to pay that.

"I'm just real pleased with the way the process has developed," Erickson said. "I know there's been some concerns. I hope you'll give us the flexibility for another eight months because we're not out of the woods yet. Our contingency fund right now is very low."

Erickson thanked the board members for going along with the program, and apologized for some last-minute bids that have come up.

"I'm sorry you didn't have the opportunity to study some of the bids before the board meetings."

But Moore said, "I don't want to wait eight more months for some oversight and control. The thing that concerns me is you lose oversight, you lose controls and I want the starting point to be an evaluation of what do we need, do we need it and how do we get it. I don't want three or four people saying I want to buy this or I want to pick it up at Home Depot or on the Internet."

Moore again said he didn't think the district should wait eight months to tighten its purchasing procedure.

"I mean I'm talking about tomorrow -- in my opinion," Moore said.

Board members reviewed Erickson's recommended bidding procedure. In the procedure, Erickson would approve a prospective bid and the central office secretary would handle the bidding procedure.

The district requires that services and items over $10,000 be put out for bids.

Board member Leana Leslie said she would like to know which employees are allowed to purchase items through the school district's accounts.

And, she asked about instances where employees buy items and then ask the district to pay for them.

"What recourse do we have when somebody walks in with an item already purchased," Leslie asked.

Erickson said his secretary talks to him about it.

"And then what happens?" Moore asked.

"I have to make a decision," Erickson said.

Leslie said she thought this happened frequently.

"I think we've got the same people that do it over and over," Leslie said.

Moore reviewed Erickson's drafted policy on recommended bidding procedures.

He referred to the draft's first sentence: "All USD 464 employees who wish the bidding of materials or services will provide bids materials to the central office secretary."

Moore objected to the word "All," saying, "That's what I want to get away from. We've got too many employees wishing to bid."

Moore again urged Erickson to tighten the district's purchasing procedure, and to ensure employees obtain permission before purchasing items.

"We don't want to leave ourselves open for abuse, or something worse," Moore said.

Moore stressed that the district needed to take control of the purchasing.

"Let's evaluate what we're buying and make sure we don't have four or five people in the district who order what they want when they want," Moore said.

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