...The adage “no news is good news” is a common refrain in the world of purchasing and procurement. “Typically, when procurement is in the limelight, it’s because something went wrong, terribly wrong,” says Phillip Ellison, executive director for procurement services for Texas’ Spring Independent School District. “We’re OK staying under the radar. That just means we’re doing the job and getting the job done.”

This past year, however, the coronavirus pandemic turned that thinking on its head. School district purchasing officers across the country were pressed to acquire goods and services they rarely needed and in significant quantities, right along with other businesses, institutions, and government organizations.

At times, both international and domestic supply chains couldn’t meet the demand for specific items, including personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning and disinfecting supplies, laptops and curriculum software to support virtual learning, even plexiglass and acrylic shields to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

Last January, shields and dividers were rarely, if ever, on Purchasing Manager Latanya Figueroa’s orders for Lakewood, Washington’s Clover Park School District. Today, they’ve been installed at the system’s reception desks, library circulation counters, concession stands, and offices. Figueroa also bought plexiglass study corrals for the in-school sessions held for some students during districtwide remote learning. 

Federal, state, and even local guidelines dictate how school districts and other governmental entities can purchase items: everything from paper supplies and HVAC equipment, to school buses and technology products, to reading assessment exams and more. “We’ve got to follow those requirements,” Ellison says. “Our job is to make sure our internal customers, who are ultimately the students, teachers, and administrators throughout the district, receive the products that they need in a compliant manner.” 

Compliance, customer service, and value creation are the three pillars that Ellison says drive his team’s work at Spring ISD. It was one of 22 school districts nationally that earned the 2020 Achievement of Excellence in Procurement (AEP) Award sponsored by the National Procurement Institute.

The BuyBoard National Purchasing Cooperative is a popular resource available to school districts and other governmental entities that helps them comply with local and state procurement requirements and provides a documented audit trail of the goods and services they purchase. 

BuyBoard was established locally for Texas-based governmental entities by the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) in 1998. In 2010, in collaboration with NSBA, the BuyBoard National Purchasing Cooperative was created. BuyBoard is currently sponsored by 17 NSBA member state associations. The cooperative gives its members, at no cost, the advantage of leveraging its ability to obtain bulk discounts, combined with the ease of web-based shopping and ordering, explains David Ricketts, national director for BuyBoard.

With budgets tight, staff sizes small, and time always at a premium, simplicity, transparency, and confidence in the procurement process makes a huge difference, he says. “Having a resource you can lean on that can really fast forward the whole contracting process is a big plus.” 

By state statute, BuyBoard is recognized as a governmental entity, so members of the cooperative “can borrow a contract it offers without having to do a formalized solicitation on their own,” Ricketts says. “That really just fast-forwards the whole contracting process.”

BuyBoard’s value-added proposition is that the program has “already conducted the open competitive sourcing process, vetted the offers and potential suppliers, and presented contract options to the various governmental procurement offices across the nation,” says Jeff Gossage, director of procurement for Tennessee’s Metro Nashville Public Schools. “This reduction in time is a significant value to procurement for professionals.”

Like Figueroa, Gossage is on the nine-member BuyBoard board of directors, made up of participating program members who review and award contracts to vendors. Andrea Messina, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, also sits on the board.

Of the cooperative’s, 5,300 members in 48 states, just over half are K-12 school districts. The other half are cities, counties, community colleges and universities, water districts, fire districts, and many other local governmental entities.

Unlike purchasing cooperatives that offer just one vendor contract in a given category, BuyBoard has multiple awards, “meaning there’s a variety of different vendors under our contracts,” Ricketts says. “That brings more value, we think, to our members.”

BuyBoard encourages minority-owned, woman-owned, and veteran-owned businesses, as well as local and regional vendors, to participate in the program with the potential, if selected, to become a contracted BuyBoard vendor. “Having that local flavor is important to our members,” Ricketts says.

Proceeds from a service fee invoiced to the vendor on a purchase go to supporting the educational mission of the sponsoring school boards association in that state, to NSBA, and to enhancing the program itself, Ricketts says. For example, BuyBoard recently updated its website to better support the user experience.

“We need to congratulate and thank the Texas Association of School Boards for its leadership and innovation around BuyBoard, which was founded more than 20 years ago,” says Anna Maria Chávez, NSBA’s executive director and CEO and herself a former chief procurement officer for a state agency in Arizona. TASB’s “collaboration with NSBA to create the BuyBoard National Purchasing Cooperative has been amazing,” she adds.

“BuyBoard is a key component for the future of NSBA” with the ability to help “more of our state associations be part of the procurement process, bring in new revenue for their associations, and give outside participating businesses the opportunity to support local school districts by participating in BuyBoard,” Chávez says. “It’s a win-win situation.”

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