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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Vendor Spotlight

Interlocal Contracts provide VALUE and SAVINGS - Exhibit

Posted on October 8, 2014

Meet 65 vendors with government-awarded contracts at exhibit

One of the challenges procurement professionals face is recommending contract awards that provide best value at the lowest possible cost. Sometimes details of the purchase are so technical that it can be difficult to explain in a few minutes why the very lowest bid might not have been the one that was recommended. In addition, school board trustees are sometimes pressured to award contracts to specific companies. Ultimately, procurement officials benefit from transparency in the evaluation and award criteria used and from ensuring that all contract awards follow competitive bidding laws.

The actual cost of procurement includes the time required to do necessary research, determine if a contract exists that can be used by the district or if an original RFP must be issued. In the August/September 2014 issue of Government Procurement, an article on spend analysis [“Define saving to show value” ] clarifies the difference between savings that release cash (the item was purchased at a lower price) versus savings that are non-cash releasing (they save time and resources or provide more services for the same price.)

Using cooperative purchasing contracts awarded through a competitive procurement process can help.

TRANSPARENT AWARDS INSPIRE PUBLIC CONFIDENCE

Using cooperatives provides transparency for school districts.  Allegations of inappropriately awarding a contract to a vendor are nonexistent when using a cooperative contract, since the cooperative is responsible for the research, development of the RFP, advertising, evaluation and award.  All the district needs to do is ask the cooperative for evidence of the due diligence for the competitive bid/proposal. Some cooperatives work to award regional contracts throughout Texas, providing the slightly smaller or regional companies an opportunity to work with governmental entities in their area.

SELECTING THE COOPERATIVE CONTRACT

Frequently, once a procurement professional discovers the benefits of shared services through a cooperative, they may propose that the board approve interlocal contracts with multiple procurement cooperatives. Cooperatives may have an area of specialization, from acquisition of technology, commodity supplies or specialty items to facility services contracts. While procurement cooperatives generally have similar missions, they operate slightly differently. Districts should ensure that each cooperative can provide evidence of the due diligence for each contract and are willing to provide details of the contract for their members when it is requested. Because each RFP and awarded contract differ, it is important for the school district business official to know what the terms and conditions of the awarded contracts are. For example, if a district is ordering an item that requires installation, does the cooperative contract include that? Does it include shipping? Does the cooperative allow the vendors to negotiate a lower price?

Cooperatives may award multiple contracts in one category if the evaluation justifies it.  This may include a best-value proposal that is not the lowest price, but is extremely competitive, with added value items and a higher quality product / service. Also, because of the cost to the proposer to go through the bidding process, one-shot responses to a RFP/bid may be higher than the pricing the vendor might offer to a cooperative. Consequently, districts can frequently get a better value with a cooperative than they could get by independently doing a RFP or bid, which becomes a cost savings that releases cash.

In the article “Selecting the right cooperative contract” in the Feb/March 2012 issue of Government Procurement, Wayne Casper, group director-west of the National Intergovernmental Purchasing Alliance and retired procurement director of the state of Arizona and the city of Tucson, Ariz., suggested that three elements be considered in addition to price when choosing a cooperative contract:  process, competitiveness and transparency.

LEARN FIRST-HAND ABOUT COOPERATIVE CONTRACTS

Purchasing professionals can see value and savings face-to-face at the Annual Vendor Exhibit sponsored by HCDE Choice Partners national cooperative on Oct. 31, 2014 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Houston. More than 65 vendors will showcase their products and services, from facilities services to educational materials, food service supplies and technology.

Choice Partners Director Derek Gillard says it is a great option for purchasing staff.HCDE awarded contract-holder seal

“Seldom do purchasing people have time to visit with vendors or even get out of the office, so it is a good opportunity for them to meet with vendors, put a face with the voice and build relationships," said Gillard. “It maximizes their time out of the office by seeing 65 vendors all at once. Just like our co-op, it is a time savings. They can learn about new vendors and their products and services all in one place on one day.”

Learn more details about the event or call 877-696-2122 for more information about Choice Partners cooperative.

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Maximize Dollars With Best-Value Purchasing Contracts

Posted on September 17, 2014

Maximize dollars with best-value purchasing contracts

School district officials might hope that school funding could improve in a few years due to Texas District Judge John Dietz’s recent ruling that the state’s school funding is unconstitutional. But for now, funding remains tight and limited for the 2014-15 school year, challenging school districts to be smart and efficient while following school board policies and the government code that dictate how to legally spend public funds. Since districts spend about 80 percent on salaries, the remainder of the budget has to be maximized, making the purchasing function critically important.

Purchasing consultant Mark Rogers said when he began working in a school district, purchasing law was just a paragraph or two. In his presentation at a recent School Finance Council meeting at Harris County Department of Education, Rogers said he had the purchasing statutes for independent schools districts and community colleges memorized in 1974. Today the purchasing statutes for ISDs and community colleges are spread out in the education code, the local government code and the government code.

Effective Purchasing Tools
Save Time through cooperative purchasingBut with procurement best practices, school districts can avert common problems in the purchasing office. One of the tools Rogers advocates using is cooperative purchasing.

"Everybody benefits," said Rogers. “It doesn't matter how big or how small you are, you will get some benefit from cooperative purchasing." 

Rogers says districts using cooperative purchasing contracts may save money, and they definitely save time. Using a cooperative purchasing contract can help you “get things done quickly,” said Rogers. “It can really save your day.”

Choice Partners, the purchasing cooperative of Harris County Department of Education, is one of the oldest cooperatives in Texas. From its beginning as the HCDE Purchasing Cooperative in the 1960s, the cooperative served school districts in the greater Houston area. Today, there are benefits for school districts in any location to use the contracts and save time and money.

Best Value Contract

Rogers advises purchasing offices to look at the quality of the contracts and the quality of the product or service.  Sometimes people assume if you bought it on competitive bid basis, you bought an inferior product, he said.

“Avoid the low-bid syndrome,” said Rogers. “We want to buy good quality.”

He advises thinking about the life-cycle of the product to ensure that significant factors other than acquisition costs are considered in making the purchasing decision.

Review co-op contracts
Choice Partners publicizes a list of things to look for to ensure districts are accessing quality, valid, legal contracts when using a purchasing cooperative.

· Are the contracts procured under current law?

· Is there proof that the proposals were evaluated? Can you get the evaluation tabulation?

· Are the contracts offering a quality, best value product or service or is it low bid of a low-quality item?

· Does the co-op require an interlocal agreement according to Texas Government Code 791?

· Was the contract awarded by a governmental entity as required by Texas Government Code 791?

· If the co-op offers facilities services contracts for such things as maintenance, renovations or repair, were these contracts procured through Job Order Contracting as required by Texas Government Code 2269?

Gold Standard for cooperatives

Other factors include any added value the cooperative provides.  Does the purchasing cooperative audit the contracts for compliance? 
Do they offer HUB or MWBE contracts? Do their evaluations include weights for HUB or MWBE status? Are the HUB contracts clearly designated on their website?  Does the cooperative’s government entity follow what is known as the “gold standard” by using its own contracts?

Other best practices recommended by Rogers include:

·  Operate with a code of ethics remembering that any behavior that could appear unethical needs to be avoided;

·  Cross train staff so at least two people can perform every task;Best Practices in Purchasing

·  Recognize employees for exceptional performance;

·  Hold pre-bid conferences, but don’t make them mandatory, which could severely restrict competition;

·  Keep contract  information  readily available for staff on an up-to-date website;

·  Network; and

·  Don’t reinvent the wheel.

“I don't care how much expertise you have,” said Rogers. “If you start from scratch, you will almost certainly omit something or find something you could have done better if you had started with somebody else's wheel.”

For more information on Choice Partners cooperative, go to www.ChoicePartners.org.  School districts can download the interlocal contract to become a member at www.ChoicePartners.org/membership.

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Students See New Standards in the Lunchroom

Posted on September 3, 2014

From implementing changes in the arrangement of food in the cafeteria to the way school district business offices apply for reimbursement, school districts are working to be more efficient while serving affordable and healthy food. 

With more than 5 million students returning to about 9,500 Texas schools, millions of breakfasts and lunches are being served every day.

Just less than two months ago, updated national standards for school nutrition went into effect from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids’ Act. Although the Act was passed in 2010, new standards have been added each year. This year, a whole cup of fruit must be offered at breakfast, and all breads need to be rich in whole grains and lower in sodium. The new regulation addressing calories, saturated and trans fats, salt and sugars, applies to all foods. So to address the new healthy options requirements, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) changed the nutrition standards for snacks and beverages sold in schools whether in vending machines, cafeterias, school stores or for fundraising.

From accounting for indirect food costs and increasing meal appeal to minimizing plate waste, schools are strategizing to ensure that these new meal standards are successfully implemented, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.*

Many districts are working to ensure students have the energy and stamina to learn by providing free breakfast and lunch for at-risk students, sometimes with funding through the USDA’s Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program or the 2010 Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Changes in requirements for school-served foods made by the USDA, are challenging to the suppliers.

“The USDA handing down changes is one of the biggest challenges my company faces,” said Douglas Kurz of Kurz & Co., who supplies bread products for school districts.

“Beginning July 1, the USDA requires all bread products in the schools to be at least 51% whole grain, and Kurz has helped get us to that point as quickly as possible,” explained Shirley Parker, assistant director and dietitian at Humble ISD. “They knew about the change immediately and started talking to us about it, listening to our needs and helping us figure which products were our priorities.”

Rebecca Kenefic, dietetic supervisor of Child Nutrition Service at Spring Branch ISD, said making the transition to whole grain bread products was not difficult for Spring Branch ISD, which started ordering Kurz & Co.’s qualifying “white wheat” bread products four years ago.

“We have already been using Kurz’s whole grain products for several years,” she said. “We love their bread.”

WHOLEHEARTED COMMITMENT
Labeling itself the “Good Bread” Company, Kurz & Co. specializes in delivering fresh bread, buns, rolls, tortillas and other baked goods to large institutional customers, particularly schools. Choosing not to deliver to grocery stores and restaurants means its energies are more focused.

Douglas Kurz said that other companies that strive to serve schools under the USDA’s regulations often have to resort to frozen options, but Kurz & Co. is committed to producing and shipping fresh bread.

“We are the only company that can do it fresh,” Kurz boasted. “Our company is unique – we don’t serve any retail. We are the only company that meets the USDA recommendations to develop the product specifically for schools.”

BAKING UP A STORM
Kurz & Co.’s reputation for reliable delivery, quick communication and excellent customer service – even in spite of inclement weather – has helped the company expand in recent years.

“Since 2004 we have grown tremendously,” Kurz said, mentioning that he’s added 600 schools each year for the past two years to his delivery routes.

He has also found loyal customers through use of the Choice Partners cooperative contract. Kurz & Co. is HCDE’s only competitively awarded contract holder for bread products. They can deliver in the Houston, San Antonio and Dallas areas using the Choice Partners contract.

 “We love Choice Partners!” said Spring Branch ISD’s Kenefic. “It’s really great having the freedom to go between the vendors we like. It’s a great co-op to be a part of.”

For more information, contact Doug Kurz at 713-861-9955, dougkurz@kurzco.com.   Choice Partners members can log in and see the details of the Choice Partners contract at https://www.choicepartners.org/vendors/kurz-and-company

*http://www.cspinet.org

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Increase Efficiencies

Posted on August 27, 2014

School districts, cities and other governmental entities that use the Dahill contract for copiers and printing services get more than just cutting-edge equipment—they get access to Dahill’s friendly, knowledgeable and fast-moving support team.

        Galena Park ISD uses the Dahill contract through Choice Partners cooperative and has been satisfied with the results—particularly its online service platform. With a variety of Xerox 

copiers across its campuses, the Houston-area school district knows that maintenance problems can arise, whether it’s a paper misfeed or an empty toner cartridge.

        Lynn Nutt, logistics coordinator at Galena Park ISD, said she’s happy with Dahill’s set up for service requests and supply orders.

        “We do it all online so you get a confirmation right away,” Nutt said. “We can order supplies or place a service call—it’s really easy.”


The online maintenance and supplies service is so simple, in fact, that Nutt trains the campus staff to go directly to Dahill instead of calling her! 

         Considering that most Galena Park ISD campuses have a copier that can print 30 pages per minute (ppm) and at least one that runs 95 ppm, the added speed with supplies and service calls really adds up to time saved in the work room. It’s no surprise, then, that Nutt called her Dahill contract “very satisfactory overall.”

        The city of Brownsville is also pleased using the Choice Partners contract with Dahill, primarily for networked “all-in-one” machines that can copy, scan and fax.

        “Our experience has been great,” said Gerardo Noriega, purchasing agent for the city of Brownsville. “We have not had any issues with salespeople or the service team. Our departments are happy using their services.”

        Noriega said Dahill continuously follows up to ensure the city’s needs are met.         

        “They are a very attentive company,” Noriega said.

        Furthermore, members appreciate that the Choice Partners contract covers more than just hardware. 

        “Everything we’ve asked for, supplies, maintenance, service parts, all of the consumable supplies, are included in the contract,” said Nutt. “It allows us to do more with less!”

        Nutt also notes “it’s easier and more efficient” using the Choice Partners contract than those of other cooperatives.  Plus she appreciates that the Choice Partners contract allows for flexibility in how Galena Park ISD sets up its reconciliation.

    Noriega said the city of Brownsville has also had good experience using Choice Partners contracts. “We have not had any issues with the co-op or with the co-op’s vendors,” he said.
        To see details on any of the four Dahill contracts, go to www.ChoicePartners.org/vendors/php and type Dahill in the search box. 

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Grandview ISD, HCDE and Brandt Companies partner

Posted on August 20, 2014

Grandview ISD students returning to cool, air-conditioned classrooms in the midst of blistering August heat have a few people to thank.

One is Joe Perrin, superintendent of the small, rural 2A district south of Fort Worth—so small that Perrin wears (and shares) many hats, from purchasing agent to curriculum leader to chief executive officer. Another is Greg Lookabaugh, Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) senior manager of facilities planning, who along with consultant David Simmons worked with Superintendent Perrin to finish a heating ventilation air conditioning (HVAC) project in a couple of months.

Perrin said the legalities of the bid process and the steps needed to replace over a dozen 30-year-old HVAC units might have taken him a year if he had done it alone, but with HCDE’s help the job sped up rapidly.

“The help allowed us to complete the project before this school year, which probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise,” Perrin said.

Lookabaugh and Simmons walked Perrin through the planning and development stages first, ensuring that Grandview ISD was matched with a quality engineer. Then, for installation, the time came to select a vendor with a legally procured HVAC contract.

“I involved several Choice Partners awarded vendors, inviting them to quote the project based on the engineer’s designs and specifications,” Lookabaugh said.

Grandview ISD chose The Brandt Companies—yet another hero in this story.

Construction took the company about seven days from the day the crane arrived until the project was finished.

“The big drama on this project was the equipment,” said Danny Ramirez, business development, The Brandt Companies. “We were not sure it would be here on time.”

But The Brandt Companies got the order pushed up, and the equipment arrived. They finished the project on budget, on time and with customer satisfaction.  Ramirez said what “went great” was the coordinating done by HCDE.

“[Lookabaugh] did an awesome job on his end, which made everyone else’s job easier,” Ramirez said. “He stayed on top of everything, communicating to make sure everyone was in the loop.”

A local contractor familiar with Grandview ISD’s building controls also worked with The Brandt Companies to connect new equipment to the existing operating system.

“The process went really well,” Perrin said. “I was very pleased. I’d definitely do it again.”

Lookabaugh added that the success seen in this project exemplifies HCDE’s unique brand of collaboration.

“I brought coordination and efficiency in implementation, and I utilized legally procured Choice Partners vendor contracts,” he said. “This is a facility management service that no other co-op offers.”

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Members Rely on Automated Logic

Posted on April 1, 2014

MEMBERS RELY ON AUTOMATED LOGIC
When Choice Partners members need easy-to-use building automation systems that provide maximum energy efficiency, they leave the light on for Automated Logic Corporation (ALC). The company, which has operations across the globe, is known for excellent, client-specific service, and its HVAC  and Building Controls contracts with Choice Partners makes its services easy for members to access.

“Their response has always been great,” said Paul Gutowsky, energy coordinator at Lamar CISD, which used the Choice Partners contract awarded to ALC to change out the controls in portable buildings. ALC removed the manual thermostat and installed one that can be controlled off-site in the centralized control system.

“I’ve always received the service I needed and any issues have been addressed both quickly and professionally,” Paul added.

The energy team at La Joya ISD knows what Paul is feeling. It used the Choice Partners contract with Automated Logic Corporation for a digital controls lighting project and has done work with them through their own RFPs, which were awarded before La Joya ISD became a member of HCDE Choice Partners.

“If I could put all my schools on ALC, I would,” said Rey Cedillo, energy management director, La Joya ISD.

Rey said the teamwork of ALC providing training to the La Joya ISD technicians has alone saved the district about half a million dollars over a six-month period.

“If you are going to build a campus that requires controls, you cannot go wrong with Automated Logic,” said Rey. “As long as you have internet, you can access the controls.”

Too bad ALC’s golfing skills are not on par with their construction abilities, Rey joked, referring to a recent fundraising golf tournament during which the ALC team received high scores.

“Their products are very good – they are just not good at golf!” said Rey, acknowledging their participation contributed to funds for scholarships.

While ALC may not have every golf tournament in the bag, it does seem to win at a wide range of construction projects. Just ask Dayton ISD, which relies on ALC’s clear and efficient work ethic.

“They installed a chiller a couple of years ago and did an outstanding job,” said Steve Bell, facilities director, Dayton ISD.

 “They showed up when they said they would, finished when they said they would, and had it cranked up on time,” added Steve. “It was excellent and everything I expected.”

ALC also did a campus retrofit for controls and partnered with another Choice Partners vendor, Custom Air Products, who did the custom mechanical work. Steve said he would “absolutely” use both of them again.

Steve appreciates the structure of the Choice Partners IDIQ contracts that use R.S. Means, as all the quotes show exactly where the money goes. “That’s just what we need,” said Steve, “because we are spending taxpayer dollars.  With Choice Partners everything is laid out, money-wise, which makes it easy for facilities people like me to account for the dollars.”

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