Archive for Wednesday, February 14, 2007

School district purchase plan raises concerns

February 14, 2007

Tonganoxie school board members Monday night postponed paying bills submitted by a board member who's been shopping for the district.

Board member Leana Leslie said she did not want to approve paying bills to board member Darlyn Hansen's firm, Micro Resources, until she knew more about the items that were purchased.

"If they had to be modified to make them work, they did not meet our specifications and therefore we should not be paying that," Leslie said. "I don't want to approve that until I know the answers to the questions."

After a heated discussion, Erickson offered to provide board members with more information about the listed items, which fill more than a page in the board's monthly list of "warrants" -- bills to pay. Bills submitted by Micro Resources for the month total $8,339. Of that, $3,272, or 39 percent, is for consulting fees for Hansen's firm.

"Let's pull out that sequence of bills, and I'll bring the answer back to you at a later time," Erickson said.

That answer is expected in time for the board's next regular meeting, March 12.

This is not the first time board members have questioned the district's purchasing plan. At a Nov. 13 board meeting, Erickson asked board members to go along with the program until the district's $25.3 million construction project wrapped up this coming summer.

At that November meeting, board members were skeptical, with Ron Moore saying he didn't want to wait eight more months "for some oversight and control."

'Research,' 'staging' costs

Since June 2005, the district has paid Hansen's firm an hourly rate to shop for the district. Hansen charges the school district $25 an hour for research and $40 an hour for staging.

In the nearly two years since the competitive purchasing program started up, the district has paid Hansen's firm about $96,000. This does not include the actual costs of the items purchased. Nor does it include sales tax and shipping and handling fees.

Hansen's "research" entails everything from studying building specifications to determine what items were needed for the school's construction project, to shopping, often online, to buy them at a lower cost than through traditional means.

Since the program kicked off in June 2005, Hansen has purchased items from a wide range of sources -- from eBay to direct from the manufacturers. Some of the items he has bought were new, some used.

Though the district's construction program is nearing completion, Hansen continues to shop for the district. And in some cases his research includes obtaining bids for needed items.

The "staging" process of Hansen's work includes cleaning up the items if necessary, installing them and making needed repairs.

Erickson's November 2006 review of the purchasing plan showed Hansen's work was widespread. His purchases ranged from can openers and kitchen sinks to a public address system for the football field. According to a November 2006 report compiled by Erickson, Hansen had purchased $487,654 worth of items for the district at a savings of $209,127.

'I can go to Wal-Mart ...'

At Monday's meeting, Leslie said she wasn't so sure the district was getting a great deal on everything Hansen purchased.

For instance, she noted, Hansen's firm recently purchased a Play Station 2, to be used for a physical education project in which kids dance to music.

The school district paid $100 for the Play Station, plus $20 for shipping. That was no savings, Leslie said.

"We don't have to go through Micro Resources," Leslie said. "Because I can go to Wal-Mart and get it for 120 bucks."

Leslie expressed doubts about the purchasing plan, saying district patrons have complained to her about it.

But as in November, Erickson asked board members to continue with the program until the district's construction project was complete. Construction is expected to wrap up at the grade school by mid-summer.

"We're about ready to finish off this competitive purchasing program," Erickson said. "We're still working through the remodeling job at the kitchen of the elementary school."

Leslie said it made sense to make some of the big purchases of new items through Hansen's firm. However, she wasn't so sure about the small-ticket items.

For instance, Leslie said the district was asked to pay $15 for a kitchen shelf, and $40 for its shipping and handling, purchased through Hansen's firm.

"This is not competitive purchasing when we probably could have bought this on the shelf for $15 plus tax at Home Depot," Leslie said. "Each one of the things has a shipping and handling charge added to it. I just don't think it's a good use of the taxpayers' money to be doing it. I can't justify it when people come and ask me, there's just no way we can justify some of these things."

Erickson admitted the program has raised questions.

"Has it been controversial?" Erickson said, "At times it has, absolutely."

That's when Craig Lohman spoke up. Lohman, a former high school and junior high coach, is running for school board.

"I expect new stuff, not stuff we've got to work on," Lohman told board members.

Board member Ron Moore agreed.

"New stuff is what we need to concentrate on," Moore said. "We need to quit buying junk."

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