Choice Partners purchasing cooperative offers quality, legal procurement and contract solutions to meet government purchasing requirements. We also meet all of the EDGAR/Uniform Guidance/2 CFR 200 requirements!  

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Vendor Spotlight

Best Practices in Procurement: Three Tips from Top Specialists

Posted on September 7, 2016

Jesus Amezcua, Pam Perkins and Mark RogersSchool purchasing professionals “have a lot to keep up with,” according to Pam Perkins, program specialist, Consumer Protection Division of the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Perkins, who has spent many years investigating claims of illegal purchasing activity such as price-fixing and bid-rigging, was one of three experts to speak on August 25 at Harris County Department of Education for a joint meeting of HCDE’s School Finance Council and TASBO’s Gulf Coast chapter.

More than 80 school business leaders went to hear Perkins speak, along with Mark Rogers, a longtime procurement specialist, and Sarah Langlois, an attorney with Rogers, Morris and Grover, LLP. The three presenters shared their expertise on a number of procurement-related issues and offered the following as advice.

1. Perception is reality.

Both Perkins and Rogers emphasized the importance not just of transparent purchasing practices but of withstanding varying levels of public scrutiny – from careless speculation to full-fledged audits.

“Avoid the intent and appearance of unethical or compromising practices,” Rogers said, emphasizing that even the appearance of misconduct can be enough to cause harm to an organization. Perkins agreed.

“Welcome the openness,” she said. “Conduct yourself as if everything you do will end up in the newspaper.”

While actual purchasing law does not always match the public’s perception of what it should be – or, as Perkins put it, “just because you think something is hinky doesn’t mean it’s against the law” – both presenters agreed nevertheless that purchasing professionals have an obligation to show the public that their hands are clean.

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” Perkins said, summing it up.

2. Sole source providers are rare.

As many procurement professionals know, the law provides exemptions from the traditional “get three quotes” bidding process for purchases that are so unique that they can’t be acquired from multiple vendors. The relative ease of procuring from so-called “sole source providers,” however, has led many participants in the education and government markets to use the term too loosely.

“There must be no functional equivalent in the marketplace” for a product or service to qualify as sole source, according to Langlois, which means that sole source providers are actually “very rare.”

Perkins pointed out that many companies – particularly those with patented products or proprietary processes, such as software developers – mislead clients into believing that they are sole source providers in order to hurry a deal through to close. Others simply misunderstand the law or interpret it too loosely. Purchasing professionals must do their due diligence to verify that vendors claiming to be sole source providers actually are, while understanding that, in most cases, they probably aren’t.

3. Cooperative purchasing helps.

Membership in a purchasing cooperative – especially one like HCDE Choice Partners that does its due diligence and operates according to the “gold standard” of procurement – has a way of easing concerns about legality and trust, but co-op members still have some work to do to make sure their resources are being used properly.

“Everybody benefits” when it comes to co-ops, Rogers said, pointing out that school districts both large and small can rely on the “toolbox” of cooperative contracts when their needs exceed their own means.

It is the responsibility of the entity, however, to verify that a vendor holds an up-to-date contract with a fully compliant co-op.

“Make sure vendors are on the up and up,” he said.

Learning about a co-op’s contracts, verifying its legality, and making use of networking events to check references are all ways to get the most out of cooperative purchasing. 

For more information about HCDE Choice Partners contracts, or to become a member, go to www.ChoicePartners.org/membership.

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Teaching Systems gets straight A’s on quality, service

Posted on August 4, 2016

Robots run around the room. 3D printers create architectural designs, dioramas, models of body parts – you name it. Laser machines engrave detailed artwork and maps on wood and carve chess sets out of stone. Is this Earth in the year 2200, perhaps? Actually, it’s today’s STEM-friendly classroom, thanks to Teaching Systems Inc.

“Teaching Systems works on getting the things we need,” said Don Kelly, a career and technical education specialist at Garland Independent School District. With Teaching Systems’ help, Kelly added, Garland ISD was even able to take advantage of a special “buy four, get two free” deal on 3D printers with Makerbot. 

“We just enjoy working with them,” he said.

Teaching Systems employees not only find the right deals and products for their customers, but they never fail to follow through.

‘Easy to work with’ every step of the way

Northside Independent School District Instructional Specialist Rosanna Perez mentioned that if she ever has a problem, Teaching Systems is sure to take care of it immediately. Because “success is the most important thing” to her and her students, the Teaching Systems staff know they need to make every product work
successfully.

Perez was not the only customer who said that Teaching Systems goes above and beyond to meet with Choice Partners members face-to-face and get them what they need.

“What I like about them most is that they actually come to El Paso and present their products,” said Eric Winkelman, director of career and technical education at El Paso Independent School District.

“They come on a regular basis, stop by and visit the teachers,” he added.

Winkelman also mentioned that El Paso ISD has been working with Teaching Systems for almost 20 years, and just one time was there an issue with shipping. However, he said that when Teaching Systems employees became aware of the problem, they apologized, took responsibility and quickly overnighted the product.

“They’ve always been easy to work with,” he explained.

Kelly cited an incident last year in which Garland ISD had difficulty fixing its broken embroidery machines. Teaching Systems not only helped them fix the machines but also set up future trainings for the teachers. Instead of leaving Garland ISD teachers on their own, Teaching Systems remained involved in the training process every step of the way.

Fluent in partnership and success

When Northside ISD knew that it would need learning labs for students taking foreign language AP classes due to a requirement to record and send MP3 files, it had to go with an option that could provide a seamless user experience.


“We wanted something that would work 100 percent of the time,” Perez said.

Naturally, the choice was Teaching Systems, who Perez says has a “really good” relationship with the Northside ISD technology department.

Teaching Systems provided the equipment for the language labs, as well as staff development and training resources for foreign language teachers.

“Our teachers feel comfortable with Teaching Systems,” Perez said. “They are more than a vendor; they’re a partner.”

Accessing Teaching Systems’ awarded contract through Choice Partners has been a plus for members.

“We’re satisfied with how smooth it’sbeen using co-op purchasing for Teaching Systems,” Winkelman said.

Employees at Teaching Systems agreed that working with a co-op has been a win-win. According to President and Vice President of Operations Kim Savage, Choice Partners has allowed for a “streamlined process” in business, bringing purchase orders in quickly through an awarded contract. She noted that the shortened bidding process is beneficial to both Teaching Systems and customers. 

“A lot of purchase orders have been able to come in because we’ve already been awarded a contract and that’s what [customers are] looking for,” Savage said. “When we say that we’re a Choice Partners contract, then it’s an order
immediately for both of us.”

To learn more about Teaching Systems and its Choice Partners contract, go to https://www.choicepartners.org/vendors/teaching-systems-inc-3 or call 817-417-7775 or for local sales representatives, please visit http://www.teachingsystems.com/contact.php

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Borden quality service never expires

Posted on May 26, 2016

It’s no secret that when it comes to putting tasty and nutritional food in front of millions of children, today’s schools face a logistical challenge on par with going to the mooooooon and back. That’s why it’s important to contract with a dairy vendor, like Borden, willing to pamper its customers with excellent service.

“Borden responds to concerns in a timely manner. Their customer service team stays in constant communication with us regarding missing orders or other issues,” said Kara Lam, assistant director, Child Nutrition, Humble Independent School District. “They are willing to adjust routes to accommodate holiday schedules, school openings and closings, et cetera. They take care of the logistics so we don’t have to worry.”

“Overall, we’ve been very happy with Borden’s products and service,” said Christopher Kamradt, director, Child Nutrition Services, Spring Branch ISD. “If I were asked if I would recommend Borden, I would unequivocally say yes.”

It’s helpful to know that Borden’s Choice Partners contract is flexible enough to yield more than just milk. The company delivers other healthy and refreshing items such as 100% juices, brewed tea, cultured products and yogurt – all stamped with both Elsie’s signature smile and Choice Partners’ seal of approval.

“[We are] very satisfied with Choice Partners as a whole, with how they do business and how they treat us,” Kamradt said. “Choice Partners makes our lives that much easier.”

La Porte ISD Director of School Nutrition Yvonne Bennett agreed that Choice Partners stays on top of the purchasing process and keeps the lines of communication open.

“We have not had a problem at all,” Bennett said, referring to Choice Partners. “And we know that they are in compliance.”

For more information, contact David Wood at 713-724-5872 or visit https://www.choicepartners.org/vendors/borden-milk.

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ISI Commercial Refrigeration ready to serve

Posted on May 26, 2016

Choice Partners contract for commercial refrigerationGovernment and education facilities don’t just want to feed people—they need to feed people. Their kitchens have zero room for unreliable equipment or halfhearted customer service, so when it’s time to make installations or repairs to keep hungry patrons moving through the lunch line, ISI Commercial Refrigeration gets a call.

“I use ISI for large and small equipment purchases, as [Sales Consultant] Chris Wiggins has always been one to be budget-minded to meet our needs as well as ensure quality delivery,” said New Caney ISD Child Nutrition Director Debbie Needham.

Jennifer Douglas, director of child nutrition, Galveston ISD, agreed that ISI “goes above and beyond” when it comes to customer service.

“ISI provides great service – they communicate well,” Douglas said. “Its customer service is very user-friendly and very flexible.”

In an industry where options for customization are all but endless, members said they enjoy working with a vendor that can help them see through the fog.

“I think what I like about [Wiggins] is that he stays on top of what is the going product at the time as well as any updates on equipment,” Needham said. ”He is knowledgeable about comparing products and helping us find which piece of equipment may work best, as it can vary by campus.”

As many governmental entities know, bringing tasty and nutritious food to the serving lines can be an arduous legal process. Luckily, Choice Partners cooperative purchasing contracts speed things up.

“I’ve always appreciated the work that Choice Partners does behind the scenes to make sure contracts are in compliance,” Douglas said.

For more information, contact Chris Wiggins at 713-861-4455 ext. 3508, cwiggins@isi-texas.com or visit https://www.choicepartners.org/vendors/isi-commercialrefrigeration-2.

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Zimmerer Kubota makes hay out of contract for equipment

Posted on May 26, 2016

Choice Partners provides equipment with Zimmerer Kubota contractBlue skies, outdoor activities, freshly cut grass – these things have us looking forward to summer all year long, but when it’s your job to stay ahead of nature’s budding greenery, summer is less a friend and more that pesky relative that keeps demanding money. To keep grass – and equipment budgets – from growing sky-high, groundskeepers and other maintenance professionals know they need the right equipment and dependable service. In other words, they need Zimmerer Kubota and Equipment Inc.

“Zimmerer Kubota all the way!” said Irving Independent School District Grounds and Environmental Quality Supervisor Todd Lane.

While praising the efforts of Steve Lee, assistant store manager, Governmental & Fleet Sales, Lane emphasized that while many companies tout quality customer
service, the folks at Zimmerer Kubota actually deliver it.

“Once, when we had purchased a mower that had a problem with one of the pulleys, Steve called us ahead of time and told us the company had made a faulty pulley,” Lane said, remembering that he was impressed that the company was aware of the problem before it arose. “Steve came out to the site and replaced the pulleys himself.”

Lane isn’t the only one to find Zimmerer Kubota’s products and service to be top-notch.

“Everything is going fine,” said Joe Brinkley, road foreman, Parker County Precinct #1.

Brinkley recently purchased a ten-foot batwing mower from Zimmerer Kubota using the Choice Partners contract – not exactly your grandmother’s lawn equipment.

In addition to high-power machinery, governmental entities also like the ease of using Zimmerer Kubota’s cooperative purchasing contract with Choice Partners.

“Steve and everyone else at Zimmerer Kubota are well-versed in government purchasing,” Lane said, adding that is not always the case with other vendors.

“If I can buy it through Choice Partners and not have to get three quotes, that’s better for me,” said Lane.

“That’s the thing that’s good about Choice Partners.”

For more information, contact Steve Lee at 817-281-6143 or stevel@zkmail.com or visit https://www.choicepartners.org/vendors/zimmererkubota-and-equipment-3.

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JOC needed for quick maintenance

Posted on May 26, 2016

As students leave for the summer, maintenance directors know to expect a list of maintenance projects from principals, along with their demands for the work to be completed before August. Quick deadlines are only possible to meet using a JOC-IDIQ (Job Order Contract – Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity) procured construction contract.

Government code 2269 mandates that facilities construction and maintenance contracts be procured using JOC, which resembles time and materials contracts that were allowed about a decade ago. The unit price book published in the RFP specifies how much the entity will pay per unit, then a multiplier (which is a discount in Choice Partners contracts) is applied to reach final pricing.

Members are amazed to discover JOC is not as expensive as they might think, according to Jim Owens, construction consultant for more than 40 years.

Rely on Choice Partners contracts to be compliant with the law, as they follow the gold standard, with Harris County Department of Education using the Choice Partners contracts awarded by its own board. It’s easy to identify Choice Partners facilities contracts for construction and trades -- look for JOC-IDIQ next to the contract category name. 

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