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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Funding Forecast for Legislative Session

Posted on November 12, 2014

Although dire economic forecasts and predictions of a major stock market crash can be heard on late night radio, the revenue picture and climate for education funding in Texas looks better than ever. The rosey revenue picture was painted by Joe Wisnoski of Moak Casey and Associates at a recent meeting of the Harris County Department of Education School Finance Council and Gulf Coast chapter of the Texas Association of School Business Officials. Oil and gas revenues, plus tax collections that exceeded the controller’s estimates, have created a higher amount of funds available to the legislature than ever before.

“We’re looking at a legislative session that has an extraordinarily high amount in the rainy day fund and extraordinarily high amount of eligible funds to allocate in the general fund in the state,” said Wisnoski.

Public education will probably cost the legislature less in the next biennium than in the past because of increasing property tax values. So there will be decreased demand for education funding at the same time that “revenue is going through the roof,” according to Wisnoski. He said the legislature will have a great opportunity to reinvest money and increase support for education in the next legislative session.

“So they have the money – the question is ‘are they willing to spend it?’” asked Wisnoski.

Contributing to the positive revenue picture is voter approval of the majority of proposed bond elections in November. Of the education bond election proposals, 81% passed: 43 of 49 school district elections and all four community college issues passed, which represented 96% of the bond proposals on the ballot, according to the November 2014 Bond Election Report prepared by David Webb, first vice president, Texas Municipal Finance Division, George K. Baum and Company.

The legislature faces other challenges in addition to education funding, including hearing proposals from newly elected officials who have pledged to reduce property taxes. Wisnoski listed major issues for this legislative session as

·         Achievement school districts

·         Taxpayer savings grants

·         Opportunity scholarships (Vouchers)

·         Virtual schools

·         Charter Expansion

·         Property Tax, Transparency

“We have a lot of resources that we haven’t had for some time and a lot of demands other than public education,” said Wisnoski. “And we have a district court saying we have a constitutional mandate to do something. It’s going to take a while for everything to shake out.”


Summary article provided by Harris County Department of Education, Client Development Services. To be added to the HCDE School Finance Council listserve, send an email to JAmezcua@HCDE-Texas.org.  For more information on HCDE, go to www.WhoIsHCDE.org.

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Custodial Managers Study Leadership

Posted on November 5, 2014

Charlotte Stallings presents

Custodial managers from school districts, colleges, universities, cities and counties gathered last week in Addison to network, increase their leadership skills, learn about new technology, see available vendor equipment and supplies and share best practices. The Custodial Management Association of Texas is geared strictly toward the custodial profession.

“It’s a wonderful organization,” said Greg Lookabaugh, chairman of the CMAT board and senior manager of facility planning, Harris County Department of Education. “The only thing we’re going to talk about is custodial services --not maintenance – and how to be a better provider of custodial services.”


Speakers Charlotte Stallings and Arthur J. Johnson spoke on leadership, exemplifying the conference theme, Custodial Leader, Past, Present and Future. CMAT members led break-out sessions on topics such as regulatory compliance for fire alarm testing, gas pressure testing and playground safety. Although the organization focuses on custodial services, members and conference participants include individuals who may also be responsible for other areas, such as safety or maintenance and operations.

Wayne Mack, former Montgomery County Custodial Services director who has held numerous positions on the CMAT board, was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Mack was vocal about his appreciation for CMAT, rousing the group to join him in his cheer “I love CMAT!”
Wayne Mack accepts the CMAT Lifetime Achievement Award


Mack, who was recently elected Montgomery County Justice of the Peace, said “I can tell how I went  from janitor to Judge and all the cr** I cleaned up in-between.”

B
obby Davis, Rice University, and current CMAT president, and James Dodson, Montgomery County, and secretary treasurer, invited custodial services managers to mark their calendars for next October 2015 when CMAT will celebrate its 37th year at a conference in San Antonio.

CMAT Employee Excellence Award“The conference helps members establish a partner to call when they have a need or challenge,” said Lookabaugh.  “It is a place to share opportunities for improvement and successful solutions to issues we face.”

There were nearly a dozen vendors exhibiting at the conference including Choice Partners national purchasing cooperative and two Choice Partners vendors -- Tandus Centiva and Buckeye Cleaning Center.

Choice Partners provides legal, competitively awarded government contracts for school districts, colleges and universities and other government organizations to use to procure facility services, carpet maintenance and janitorial supplies and equipment. In addition, the unique supply catalog includes hard bids for best pricing with specific quality parameters for mop buckets and mop bucket wringers; plastic bags; laundry detergent; hand soap; disinfecting wipes; personal hygiene products; absorbent; toilet tissue; facial tissue; towels: cloth, multi-fold paper, single-fold paper, and paper roll; trash containers and wastebaskets.

Choice Partners national cooperative

For more information, visit www.ChoicePartners.org or call 877-696-2122.

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Healthy Options Showcased for Child Nutrition

Posted on October 29, 2014

When you hear “healthier school lunches,” you probably don’t think pizza and ice cream, but Blue Bell Creameries and Smart Mouth Pizza want you to think again. These innovative companies, who along with about 65 other vendors attended the Choice Partners Child Nutrition Food Spectacular in October, have products that meet the new USDA regulations that have been rolling out since the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids’ Act was passed in 2010. Child nutrition staff from about 30 school districts and more than 150 students got to taste-test and grade the new, healthier options at the event, which was designed to help nutrition directors plan for the 2015-16 school year.Students sample foods at the Choice Partners Child Nutrition Food Spectacular

When the new USDA guidelines were announced, Blue Bell added to their line of products designed specifically for schools. These included frozen juice bars, low-fat ice cream that satisfies dietary fiber and sugar requirements, and other items portioned into the correct serving sizes.

"
Blue Bell has a long history of providing healthy ice cream and frozen snacks as part of our school program," said Rob Hungate, Blue Bell Creameries, "so it was no surprise that many products in our current lineup already met the new Smart Snack guidelines.

Blue Bell is not the only company working to make popular foods fit under the new guidelines. Exhibitors at the Child Nutrition Food Spectacular included other vendors that have contracts through Choice Partners, including Borden Dairy, Kurz & Co. (The “Good Bread” Company), Smart Mouth Pizza, and grocery suppliers Labatt Food Service and Glazier Foods Company.Katy ISD dhild nutrition staff visit at the LaBatt booth at the Choice Partners food expo

Smart Mouth Pizza has developed a fresh-baked, personal pan pizzeria style pizza, which uses whole-grain in their rising dough, low-sodium cheese and premium toppings.  The pizza meets the nutrition requirements so it is a USDA reimbursable item.

"Our program promotes brand appeal that the kids talk about. Smart Mouth Pizza has pioneered a program that helps create a food court feel for today’s kids, who are more accustomed to eating at a mall food court than the cafeterias of old. This in turn is an effective way to increase participation and profits in any school cafeteria,” said Jamie Cerutti, Smart Mouth Pizza’s profit and participation consultant.

Smart Mouth Foods’ uses a simple “satisfaction guaranteed” approach with no upfront cost.

“There is absolutely no risk starting this program in a school,” said Cerutti. “Training and marketing support is provided every step of the way at no cost to the operator.”

New packaging and new ingredients are a few of the challenges facing schools under the USDA’s changes. Choice Partners members and vendors are taking them in stride.

David Bienvenu, nutrition services director at Channelview ISD, said they order all their groceries, through Glazier Foods Company, which has been quick to resolve issues for them. From products that did not meet the guidelines to items that the children did not like, Glazier has helped find substitutes, according to Bienvenu. 


“We have a lot of needs,” said Bienvenu, “and there have been a lot of changes this year with new guidelines for children.  They have been real quick to respond to our needs.”


Bienvenu characterized the Glazier Food Company delivery drivers as “extremely dependable,” which is important when relying on a weekly delivery. Channelview ISD orders all the regular staples from Glazier Foods, such as pre-cooked foods like chicken fried steaks, canned fruits and vegetables, as well as supplies such as trays and cutlery.

“Dependability is so important,” said Bienvenu. “They are like clockwork. We never have to track a Glazier truck.”

Channelview ISD uses many other Choice Partners cooperative contracts, such as Brothers Produce for fresh produce, Borden for dairy products, Kurz for bread, Blue Bell for ice cream, Auto Chlor for chemicals and others.

“We always want fresh products, quality and good prices,” said Bienvenu, “as we try to get the best for our students.”

Bienvenu said they have worked with Glazier Foods staff for more than 10 years and have developed a great working relationship.

“We do love Glazier,” he said. “They are part of our family. ... The people we deal with answer their phones and return their calls,” said Bienvenu. “It’s a relationship … Sometimes I feel like I spend more time with them than I do at home.”Glazier Foods Company

Glazier Foods Company is a broad-line food service distributor with two distribution centers, located in Houston and Dallas.  Geographic coverage extends into seven states, with Glazier serving a broad customer base including restaurants, both local independent operators and regional chains. Service to the education segment is primarily focused within the Texas border.  Glazier distributes a wide variety of products including meat, dairy, fresh produce and grocery items, plus disposable items such as cutlery, packaging and small wares.

“We are able to serve our customers by offering a wide variety of choices from each of the product categories,” said Marc Mosley, education sales manager at Glazier.

The company was recently purchased by Gordon Food Service.  Integration was postponed until June 2015 to ensure there are no disruptions during the 2014-15 school year.

Food contracts are one of Choice Partners’ specialties. The cooperative provides contracts for commodity-processed food products, such as USDA-approved meat, poultry, egg, cheese, peanut butter and fruit. In addition, the co-op procures contracts for food items such as bread, grocery products, produce, frozen and chilled beverages, plus food equipment and supplies. When districts use the cooperative contracts, they maximize their resources while saving time on the procurement process. For more information, go to www.choicepartners.org/food.
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Exterior Facility Cleaning Handled Easily

Posted on October 17, 2014

Exterior facility cleaning easily handled

When it comes to facility exterior cleaning, Ameri-Clean cannot wait to get its hands dirty. The multi-faceted company provides an array of specialized cleaning services ranging from the soaring (historic county building facades and sports stadiums) to the microscopic (mold testing and animal waste removal). No wonder Ameri-Clean’s clients boast about its spotless record.

“They did a really good job,” said Glenn Green, Sam Houston State University carpentry, paint, and sign foreperson, referring to Ameri-Clean’s work on the exteriors of nine campus buildings, including windows. 

“Everybody on campus was happy with the way the buildings looked when they got through, and they are easy to work with,” said Green, adding: “They worked around our schedule so well we hardly knew they were here working.”

For Ameri-Clean owner Richard Davis, his job is to make facility exterior cleaning look that easy — even when it’s not.

“It’s more than garbage pickup,” said Davis. “You have to know how to handle it.”

By “handle it,” Davis refers to an astonishing range of full service work, including algae removal from intricate, historic architecture, adding moisture barrier sealant, rooftop cleaning and waterproofing, cleaning windows of hard water stains, such as calcium, and restoring bronze window frames faded by the sun, mold testing, and removing such hazardous waste materials as paint, computers, dissected frogs and mercury thermometers from science classrooms. 

“Our clients like using us for things they can’t clean,” said Davis. “We don’t promote all of these, but our clients understand all we do and rely on us for it. We work together to get the job done so others can do what they need to do.”

Oftentimes, working within a tight schedule is a big part of Ameri-Clean’s job, especially when academic buildings must be ready before school starts. Davis said his team recently completed 38 buildings on a university campus in 10 days. “We had to do all those projects with quality and precision within a three week time period, yet we didn’t skimp on any of these,” he said proudly.

Angleton ISD can attest to the company’s range and performance. The Houston-area school district has used the Choice Partners contract to access Ameri-Clean for multiple projects, including cleaning building facades, roofs and stadiums.

“[Davis] stands behind his work,” said Rudy Santos, director of maintenance, Angleton ISD. “He’s a great partner to have, especially in preserving the biggest investments the community has.”

Santos has even recommended Ameri-Clean to others when their buildings need attention. “[Davis] is the right person to take care of it,” he said.

Ameri-Clean works across Texas — Dallas, Austin/San Antonio, Beaumont, Port Arthur, Hidalgo and Corpus Christi — though at its home in Houston the company regularly cleans facilities at the Harris County Department of Education.

“We have him clean the exterior of our buildings on a regular schedule,” said Les Hooper, executive director of facilities at HCDE. “They do a great job. They always go the extra mile to give us the level of service we desire.  This is another instance of us using our own Choice Partners contracts.”

For more information about Ameri-Clean or their Choice Partners contract, go to https://www.choicepartners.org/vendors/americlean or call Richard Davis at 713-876-0786.

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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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