Archive for Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Our view: Board member’s role in school purchases

September 6, 2006

During the past 14 months, the Tonganoxie school district has participated in what Superintendent Richard Erickson terms a "competitive purchasing plan."

Through this plan, school board member Darlyn Hansen, through his business, Micro-Resources, has purchased more than $350,000 of used and new equipment and supplies for the school district.

Each month, school board members receive a list of items Hansen's firm has purchased. And each month, Erickson apprises the board members of the savings Hansen's work has accumulated.

Hansen, who is paid a consulting fee for his work, leaves the board room during the time board members approve monthly bills -- which include purchases he has made as well as his consulting fee.

Hansen is paid $25 an hour for research and $40 an hour for consulting and making necessary adjustments or repairs to equipment before it is sent to be used in the individual school buildings.

According to information distributed at the Aug. 14 school board meeting, since July 1, 2005, the school district has paid $52,714 to Hansen's firm for research and consulting fees.

Because the school district has been in the midst of a $25.3 million construction project during the past year, more than the usual amount of equipment and supplies have been needed.

At the Aug. 14 board meeting, Erickson said Hansen's work had saved the district some $550,000 over retail costs.

At the Aug. 29 board meeting, Hansen presented bids he'd received by comparison shopping for heart monitors for students to wear during physical education class.

During his presentation, Hansen, a member of the school board, sat at the board table with other board members. From his seat on the board, he explained how much firms would charge for the monitors and he recommended the district accept bid prices from two of the firms. The total price of the bids he recommended was about $37,000. Hansen said this was about $5,000 less than if the items had been purchased from one vendor. Board members postponed making a decision on whether to purchase the monitors.

Taxpayers should appreciate the money the district has saved through Hansen's work.

However, the act of having a board member research bids, present them to fellow board members and recommend which bid to take seems inappropriate.

In a story in the Oct. 19, 2005, edition of The Mirror, Hansen was asked about the propriety of a board member leading the district in this purchasing plan.

Hansen replied, "I could not do this personally. But because I have a company that makes it legal."

However, appearances count. If there appears to be a conflict of interest, even if there legally isn't one, the district should take this into consideration.

And if Hansen, a board member, is to continue working for the district -- purchasing supplies through a firm he owns -- perhaps he should act as other vendors -- and sit on the other side of the board table.

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