The North County Educational Purchasing Consortium was formed in 1985 when school districts in San Diego County were informed by the County Counsel that the ability to use existing bids issued by other districts, know as "piggybacking" was no longer legal.
Prior to this time, if one district needed standard classroom furniture and went out to bid to meet the State of California requirements, a bid would include wording which would request the bidder to permit or deny the use of the bid by other districts in the area. It was felt that in this way the vendor has control over the situation and could agree to this proposal if the product being supplied was a standard item at a regular price, or deny the request if the deal was a special one-time bargain.
However, County Counsel felt that the piggyback process could either hurt the vendor or hurt the district depending on the circumstances. On the one hand the vendor could find himself obligated to provide a product to a district which was farther away, ordering a smaller quantity, or the time frame of the offer was no longer reasonable. On the other hand the district could maybe get a better price if the order was a large one-time order, or if it were placed at a time when business for the vendor was slow.
The implications of this decision by County Counsel meant that each district would bid everything for themselves unless two districts discovered that they both had similar needs and could agree on a joint bid in which both districts were named.
At the time of the decision, representatives of several school districts in North San Diego County met to see if there could be an easy way to keep each other notified of bids under consideration which may have a universal appeal. The people at the meeting were Colin Dawson from Escondido Union High, Kathy Dewey from San Marcos Unified, Fred Johnson from Vista Unified, and Ron Wise from Poway Unified, and a most unusual participant, Bryant Guy from Palomar College.
Now, Bryant Guy was not unusual, as a person, unless you considered his voluminous store of knowledge and his fervor for getting things done (and you workaholics out there will not see this as anything at all). What was unusual at that time was the fact that Community College was allying itself with K-12 school districts for mutual benefits.
Bryant was the person who thought we could, and should, become a Consortium. He was also instrumental in getting legal help to find out how to organize a Consortium so that we could become a legal entity with the ability to go to bid, with our member districts able to take advantage of the results. It was decided to restrict membership to districts having close geographic proximity in North San Diego County. Further, it was believed that by keeping the boundaries relatively narrow, the vendors would not face delivery problems, which could adversely affect pricing. The name, therefore, became an obvious choice, and so did the decision to ask Bryant Guy to be our first president. Besides that, when everyone sat around trying to decide which person would hold which position, he accepted and said, “Oh boy!”
Each district was then asked to get their respective Boards’ permission to belong and to permit them to use the Consortium bids as though they had been done by their own district personnel.
The fun part came next, deciding which products we would be bidding. This only works if there is a commonality of need and if the brands of products are acceptable to the districts, which are participating. Some items were pretty obvious:
The high cost items that always send us over the bid limit imposed by the State of California.
The items where we have large quantities of small items and the bid process with increased volume tend to make the vendors sharpen their pencils.
The essential items, which everyone forgot about until the last minute, like classroom furniture when the decision is made to move in twenty modular classrooms for school to start in a month’s time.
But who knew that we would have a hard time arriving at a consensus for a brand of #2 pencils, which would keep everyone happy?
Some of our success stories started right away: Xerographic paper, which saved Poway $20,000 in the first year alone. Vista came in with overall savings on all items of $200,000 in that first year. When San Dieguito joined the Consortium it was found that the district could save $9,200 on just 15 items carried in their district warehouse.
The Way It Works
Individual participating districts administer contracts on behalf of the Consortium. Now, after experiencing much growth during the 12 years of its existence, the list of cooperative bids extends well beyond the handful anticipated back in 1985.
There are now twenty-five school districts that belong to the Consortium, including two community college districts.
The Consortium has attracted much interest among other districts in and outside of San Diego County. Districts from all over the state of California have requested permission to use our bids (we have to regretfully decline since our bids do not contain the necessary language to permit that), and districts within the County wanted to join. For a while we considered allowing other districts outside our original boundaries to become members, but then we remembered that an increase in members would also mean an increase in the number of attendees needed to obtain a quorum at Board meetings. The other districts would have to travel farther to meetings, which increased the likelihood there they would not attend each meeting. Typical of this group, our combined efforts solved this problem, and we now have eighteen "associate member" districts. Associate memberships are now available to districts outside the boundaries of "North County" and within San Diego County. These Associate Member districts are asked to submit their requirements for the bid process, and their district is listed as a participant when the bid goes out, but since they are non-voting members, the Consortium does not face a “no-quorum” situation.
With the help of the Assistant Superintendent for Business Services, San Diego County Office of Education is also a participant, using the Consortium bids as a base for their need to be a resource for small schools basic supplies.
The Office of Education also acts as a coordinator for the associate members.
The member districts pay annual dues based on their enrollment, and dues for associate members is a flat annual fee. The money received covers administrative costs incurred in preparing, evaluating, and summarizing bids and any costs involved in the meetings of members. When funds reach a healthy level, dues are suspended for a while, and money is also used for training workshops, etc.
The current student enrollment served by the Consortium member districts is well over 150,000, and if the associate member district enrollments are included, the Consortium serves over one-third of a million students. Click here to see the current consortium membership list.
The Consortium encourages vendors to participate in their activities, and all Board meetings are open to them. Vendor opinion is actively sought when preparing specifications for bids, and their input is welcomed regarding industry trends and current product information. Participation at this level is open to any vendors who may be interested.
Of course low prices and the bidding possibilities achieved by the Consortium are of prime importance to the individual members, but this entity, with meetings every two months, has created a bond among the members which goes far beyond the actual Consortium activities—we are all there to ask for and receive help, information and comradeship.