Choice Partners purchasing cooperative offers quality, legal procurement and contract solutions to meet government purchasing requirements. We also meet all of the EDGAR requirements!

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Transparency, Oversight and Compliance in Purchasing Encouraged

Posted on February 11, 2015

Procurement professionals and contracts are under increasing scrutiny, with news reports about audits of state agencies and their purchasing procedures. Governor Greg Abbott has issued a letter to state agencies about purchasing, requesting that they follow procurement law, responsibly maximizing value and using open and transparent contracting processes. News reports implying that a cooperative purchasing contract was a “no-bid contract” are incorrect, unless the cooperative happens to be awarding contracts to any and all responders, (which is not a competitive process.)

Purchasing professionals are taught to avoid any conflict of interest or breach of ethics, and to ensure that the contracts they use provide best value for the district and are procured legally. Using an interlocal contract for purchases of $50,000 or more is one of seven allowed procurement methods under Texas Education Code section 44.031. While in the law specifies that interlocal government-to-government contracts are legal (Governmental Code Chapter 791), purchasing professionals still have to do their own verification to ensure that the cooperative they propose to use is following the law.


Check to see if the cooperative is a government entity. For example, an independent buying group that could be legal in some states is NOT legal in Texas, as it does not qualify under Government Code 791. Does the government entity require an interlocal contract to be signed (creating the member relationship)?

Ensure contracts are compliant with the law and competitively awarded. Does the cooperative have and share the evaluation tabulations with members to provide evidence of competitive process? If a cooperative automatically awards a contract to any vendor who responds to a Request for Proposal, there is no proof of competition.

Are their processes transparent?  Will the cooperative share the details of the cooperative contract with the member?

Is there oversight on contract usage, either through an annual audit process or regular contract management?  ( See the checklist for tips. )



Cooperative contracts are not the right solution for every purchase, but where it can save time and money while providing best value, it can be a great benefit for school district purchasing staff. 

Harris County Department of Education was established in 1889 by the Texas Legislature and is required to follow Texas purchasing laws. Since the 1960’s, HCDE has shared its contracts with school districts, through the HCDE Purchasing Cooperative. Today that program is called Choice Partners cooperative and includes other cooperative purchasing contracts for facilities services and food/cafeteria related supplies. It has been called The Gold Standard when the government entity of the cooperative purchasing program uses its own contracts, which is the case with HCDE and Choice Partners cooperative.

State agencies and personnel can rely on Choice Partners national cooperative, where there is transparency, compliance and oversight for procurement and contract management. HCDE Choice Partners staff are serious about their goal “to help government and nonprofit entities by providing quality services, legal procurement and contract solutions.” Choice Partners contract managers have all taken ethics classes and are either certified or are completing TASBO certification, which requires procurement courses.

Choice Partners contracts are compliant. No vendors are awarded a contract without going through a competitive bidding process. (Learn about the Choice Partners procurement process.) When the law changed for facilities services (Sept. 1, 2011, Texas Government Code 2269), Choice Partners was in the lead, researching then implementing changes in procurement to ensure compliance.

Choice Partners contracts are transparent. Members have access to the contracts after they log on to the website. Choice Partners contracts have the oversight of an assigned contract manager, plus an annual audit. It is an everyday occurrence for contract managers to verify for members what items/services can be procured under the terms of the HCDE/Choice Partners contract.

Members can trust in HCDE/Choice Partners contracts. To become a member, download the interlocal.

For more information about Choice Partners, go to www.choicepartners.org.

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Record Growth, Tight Budgets, and Technology Collide

Posted on February 5, 2015

School district budgets are as tight as ever, with student enrollment at a record high in Texas. The Texas Education Agency’s report “Enrollment in Texas Public Schools 2013-’14” produced in November 2014 documents that

  • The largest percentage of enrollment in Texas public schools was Hispanic,
  • More than 60% of all students in 2013-‘14 were identified as economically disadvantaged,
  • The percentage of students receiving bilingual or English as a second language instructional services grew to slightly more than 17 percent, and
  • The percentage of students identified as English language learners grew to 17.5 percent.

Schools have additional needs as the population changes. It can cost more to educate children who are learning English as a second language and who face economic disadvantages. So at a time when the majority of districts have funding difficulties, school districts have additional needs. This includes the need for technology, which is increasingly important, so students will be prepared for the challenges of higher education or the work world after high school.


At the Texas Association of School Administrators conference in January, several sessions included discussion of technology use in the classroom. School district policies have changed from restricting cell phone use in school to almost requiring students to bring their own device to class. Technology is being incorporated in the curriculum and students are using online devices to do research in the classroom.

Although smart phones are more prolific in 2014 even in lower socio-economic households, according to data from the Pew Research Center, not every student has a smart phone or tablet to bring to school. Given the tight budgets, how can school districts accommodate the need to purchase technology to give all students the same classroom opportunity?

Harris County Department of Education has some good options. The HCDE technology division offers Learning Management System hosting, training for LMS administration and course design training through their Cirrus Learn program. For more information, contact David McGeary at DMcGeary@hcde-texas.org or go to www.hcde-texas.org/CirrusLearn .
The HCDE Choice Partners cooperative offers more than 100 contracts for technology, including labs, hardware, software, equipment, supplies and services, so buyers can access the technology they need. Many of the contract holders are dealers, so a wide variety of product brands are available. The awarded contracts have “not to exceed” pricing, so members can negotiate reduced rates for higher quantity purchases.

For more information, see all the technology contracts on the Choice Partners website.

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Facilities Maintenance is Not Optional - It is a Must

Posted on January 28, 2015

If you are responsible for facilities at multiple campuses, which each have their own yearly, monthly or (in some cases) daily hiccups, then you know that there are some jobs even your most skilled maintenance staff can’t handle on their own. From major renovations to minor-but-challenging electrical repairs, some multi-trade tasks require the services of a qualified and dependable general contractor where experienced multi-trade coordination is required.

Even if your maintenance staff are skilled to do ANY task, having the time to do it is another issue. When they perform the big jobs, it takes them away from the daily work, which if that is ignored can suddenly turn into a bigger repair.

Because it is no longer legal for school district purchasing professionals to use time and materials annual on-call contracts where vendors are on standby for Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning, electrical, plumbing or other such repairs, one good solution is to use a cooperative contract that has been legally and competitively bid, where the CSP specifies line item pre-described and pre-priced tasks by utilizing a published, nationally averaged, construction unit price book.

Government Code 2269 now requires maintenance service contracts to be procured using Job Order Contracts (Indefinite Delivery-Indefinite Quantity Construction), which by definition allows the use of a published construction/maintenance unit price book. The JOC procured contracts can be for individual trades or can be a JOC company (general contractor) that subcontracts for all component work. JOC contracts can be procured by individual school districts or through a cooperative via an interlocal contract (Government Code Chapter 791.)

School district “public work” maintenance repairs, alterations, remediation, renovations, and minor construction can no longer be classified as time and material or catalog procured maintenance, and include such things as: adding an electrical outlet; removing old carpeting and replacing with a different or upgraded flooring surface; adding a wall; replacing HVAC units with higher efficiency units; replacing lighting with improved efficiency bulbs, etc.

Millennium Pressure Washing  and Painting Multiple Campus  Exteriors at Pasadena ISD  in 2014One example of a Job Order Contractor that has a cooperative purchasing contract is Millennium Project Solutions. Based in Crosby, Texas, Millennium has been serving the greater Houston area since 1998, and since HCDE awarded its initial contract in May 2010, the company has been fixing up area schools as a highly regarded Choice Partners vendor.

Just ask Chuck Murray, maintenance director, Crosby ISD. “When our guy needs help, we call Millennium to help us troubleshoot,” Murray said. “They have an excellent master electrician [Brian McArthur].”

But it’s more than just electrical work that makes Millennium the go-to for superior service. One of the company’s specialties is foundation repair—and they’ve proven their reputation, particularly, with Friendswood ISD.

“We were very satisfied,” said Joel Hannemann, executive director of maintenance and operations, Friendswood ISD, referring to Millennium’s completion of multiple foundation repair projects at various campuses across the Houston-area school district. “It was a good partnership.”

Hannemann added that Millennium’s quality communication and on-site supervision of the projects made him willing to use the company’s Choice Partners contract again in the future.

“By using Millennium, we were able to have a highly qualified foundation vendor do the work while maintaining proper purchasing guidelines and gaining good supervision of the projects,” he said.

That may not be surprising for a company with over 35 of years of commercial construction experience and whose motto is “Our Customer Needs First and a Safe Work Place Always.” What’s surprising is when you see such a high level of service across multiple disciplines, including mold and asbestos remediation, ADA and LEED upgrades assistance, disaster relief support services and many others.

You might say that Millennium is the kind of partner a school district needs on speed-dial, for whichever construction-related need arises, but Tom Douglas, director of maintenance, Pasadena ISD, summed it up best.

“They do good work, and I’d use them again in a heartbeat,” Douglas said.

For more information about Millennium, contact Jeremy Morgan at (281)328-2200 or jmorgan@mps-team.com. Members can log in and see the details of Millennium's Choice Partners contract here. [www.choicepartners.org/vendors/millennium-project-solutions-inc-3]


Millennium Project Solutions is one of over 20 of HCDE's competitively awarded contract holders for construction IDIQ (job order contracting). See all the contract awards for IDIQ Construction here.  

See a map of vendor contract awards by region.  

 

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Multiple Construction Problems Solved

Posted on January 28, 2015

Partnership with Millennium Project Solutions receives high satisfaction

If you’re a school district overseeing multiple campuses, each with their own yearly, monthly or (in some cases) daily hiccups, then you know that there are some jobs even your most skilled maintenance staff shouldn’t handle on their own. From major renovations to minor-but-challenging electrical repairs, some tasks require a qualified and dependable general contractor like Millennium Project Solutions.

Based in Crosby, Texas, Millennium has been serving the greater Houston area since 1998, and since HCDE awarded its initial contract in May 2010, the company has been fixing up area schools as a highly regarded Choice Partners vendor.

Just ask Chuck Murray, maintenance director, Crosby ISD. “When our guy needs help, we call Millennium to help us troubleshoot,” Murray said. “They have an excellent master electrician [Brian McArthur].”

But it’s more than just electrical work that makes Millennium the go-to for superior service. One of the company’s specialties is foundation repair—and they’ve proven their reputation, particularly, with Friendswood ISD.

“We were very satisfied,” said Joel Hannemann, executive director of maintenance and operations, Friendswood ISD, referring to Millennium’s completion of multiple foundation repair projects at various campuses across the Houston-area school district. “It was a good partnership.”

Hannemann added that Millennium’s quality communication and on-site supervision of the projects made him willing to use the company’s Choice Partners contract again in the future.

“By using Millennium, we were able to have a highly qualified foundation vendor do the work while maintaining proper purchasing guidelines and gaining good supervision of the projects,” he said.

That may not be surprising for a company with over 35 of years of commercial construction experience and whose motto is “Our Customer Needs First and a Safe Work Place Always.” What’s surprising is when you see such a high level of service across multiple disciplines, including mold and asbestos remediation, ADA and LEED upgrades assistance, disaster relief support services and many others.

You might say that Millennium is the kind of partner a school district needs on speed-dial, for whichever construction-related need arises, but Tom Douglas, director of maintenance, Pasadena ISD, summed it up best.

“They do good work, and I’d use them again in a heartbeat,” Douglas said.

Millennium Project Solutions is one of over 20 of HCDE's competitively awarded contract holders for construction IDIQ (job order contracting). For more information, contact Jeremy Morgan at (281)328-2200 or jmorgan@mps-team.com. Members can log in and see the details of the Choice Partners contract at https://www.choicepartners.org/vendors/millennium-project-solutions-inc-3

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Resolutions for 2015

Posted on January 14, 2015

Facilities Services, Business and Purchasing:  RESOLUTIONS for 2015

 Read on for resolutions that might help you improve your ISD’s facilities, business and purchasing operations in 2015!

FACILITIES

Get control of your key control

Get a better grasp of true spending for facilities (Conduct trending analysis and operations review)

Make sure all buildings operate correctly (Contract for Retro-commissioning)

Catch up on preventative maintenance (Use co-op JOC and trades contracts)

Plan for staff development (put CMAT on list for custodial managers)

Get more efficient with travel and cut down on windshield time

Solve employee attendance issues (use JOC contractors and co-op trades to fill in)

Get blueprints and drawings in order (use data archiving service)

Equip maintenance staff with hand held devices or smart phones (electronic work orders)

BUSINESS OFFICE

Become acquainted with new tax law dealing with uniform grant guidelines from Office of Management and Budget – new super circular

Stay attuned to upcoming legislative proposals

Find new revenue sources

Build relationships and network to find solutions and be more efficient (learn about and use co-op contracts)

Strive to be innovative, resilient, flexible and resourceful: Help staff release their brilliance

Implement Best Practices (look to ASBO, GFOA, HCDE)

Pay attention to cash flow, enrollment and staffing

Encourage use of advanced analytics dashboard for budget tracking

Improve customer service

PURCHASING

Roll out on-line vendor access center to increase efficiencies for all divisions

Apply for and receive awards: TASBO Award of Merit, NIGP award

Develop contract user’s manual with forms, instructions and requirements

Continue to provide information through monthly purchasing newsletter to all staff

Encourage and support staff in becoming TASBO certified

Create a workflow approval process for P.O. change orders

Improve customer satisfaction – adjust current process to ensure meaningful feedback

Create short, fun videos to train staff on such things as gifts, ethics, procedures, etc.

Use purchasing cooperative contracts whenever possible to save time and money

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Is This Purchase Legal? Top 5 Answers for Purchasing Professionals

Posted on December 3, 2014

School district business and purchasing professionals know they need to follow the law to make purchases. School board trustees want to be reassured that staff are getting best pricing and value, while following the law. So the purchasing professional frequently needs to educate trustees about how and why various procurement methods are appropriate.

Different tools are used for varying procurement needs, from Requests for Qualifications, Requests for Competitive Sealed Proposals, Requests for Proposals or bids. Sometimes it is most prudent, efficient and cost effective to use a purchasing cooperative contract where the appropriate procurement laws have already been followed. Procurement professionals should validate purchasing cooperatives they plan to use so they can be confident about the contracts available for use.

Five answers to common assumptions/questions a board of education may have about using a cooperative contract:

           1.  Why is it legal to use a co-op contract as a school district contract?
                Title 7 of the Governmental Code Chapter 791, known as the Interlocal Cooperation Act, encourages governments to
                contract with one another to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

  Section 44.031 of the Texas Education Code specifies that school districts are allowed to use an interlocal contract
  for purchasing once the governing board approves and signs an interlocal contract with that government entity.

2. How do we know that the co-op contracts are legally procured?

a. The solicitations and awarded contracts should be procured legally, using and referencing the correct procurement law. (For example, facilities services contracts for construction must follow Texas Government Code 2269, with the exception of energy savings conservation contracts)

b. The cooperative should have and share proof of due diligence, including:
      · Advertisement dates should be available for each contract award.

      · Receipt date and time of each submittal should be timely, recorded and available for review

      · Evaluation tabulation worksheets should be available for each contract award. (If the co-op awards a
        contract to all proposers, there may not be an evaluation, and the contract may not be competitively bid.)
        Purchasing professionals are encouraged to ask for proof of evaluation.


      · The applicable procurement law should be used for each proposal and contract award. 

            3. What kind of reassurance is there that the cooperative will stand behind the contract award?

    The cooperative should provide contract review/audit services; address any problems with
    orders / deliveries / substitutions; and maintain current product/pricing lists, etc.


4.  Do the solicitations for proposal encourage participation by historically underutilized businesses or minority-
     or women-owned business enterprises?

     Look for evaluation criteria that include HUB/WMBE.


5. Does the government entity offering the contract use these contracts? 
   The “gold standard” is for cooperatives to use their own contracts.


School districts are invited to sign an interlocal contract with Harris County Department of Education and then have access to use more than 500 Choice Partners cooperative contracts. Membership is free and there are no usage requirements, so joining provides options that are priceless. 

Choice Partners has its roots as the first cooperative in Texas, established in the 1960s as HCDE Purchasing Cooperative. In 2012, the three HCDE purchasing cooperatives, HCDE Purchasing Cooperative, Gulf Coast Food Co-op and Choice Facility Partners, merged to become Choice Partners.

For more information, go to ChoicePartners.org or call 877-696-2122.

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