By: Stephanie Reich, Vice President of State & Local Issues
The fight against COVID-19 wages on - families, communities, and economies worldwide continue to feel the impact of this unprecedented moment in history and adapt to it. That's the case even more so now for local education leaders procuring school resources to eliminate COVID-19 related health and safety risks.
Local school leaders across the country are grappling with the logistic dilemmas of returning to in-person operations while containing the virus's spread. From personal protective equipment and symptom screening technology to videoconferencing systems and network infrastructures, local purchasing officers are taking in-depth looks at their vendors and suppliers to ensure they're procuring appropriate items to create healthy and equitable learning experiences for students when in-school sessions return.
However, while they aim to urgently fill these requests, state and local bidding requirements, like the rest of the world, have also changed in response to the pandemic. As a result, school bidding processes have become even more involved in terms of compliance and procedures to award contracts.
So what does this mean for vendors and suppliers? Well, now it's more critical than ever for organizations - from edtech to transportation - to have a closer eye on school board agendas - at both the state and local level - and understand best practices to identify bid opportunities earlier on in the procurement process.
Today, Stateside's Stephanie Reich, Vice President of State and Local issues, explains why:
Why is the pandemic causing disruption in school boards’ procurement strategies?
The fact of the matter is this: State and local school boards face a harsh new reality. Each has had to completely rethink their processes and they’re essentially building the plane as they fly. Largely because decision-making can’t be as straightforward as it was prior to the virus’s outbreak.
On one side, at the state and local level, various legal issues and risks posed by COVID-19 have complicated school purchasing requirements and procedures for awarding contracts. From electronic signature requirements to online bidding conferences, school boards have had to adapt. Local school boards now tasked with ensuring peoples' health and wellbeing are driving procurement operations and opportunities. From what we’ve seen, local school boards are implementing their own procurement and bidding guidelines to maintain emergency protective standards and procure items quickly.
So, while, in the past, navigating school bidding processes was no walk in the park for vendors and suppliers, in the age of coronavirus, it's a whole new ball game with a myriad of new complexities to learn and adhere to if you want to be first through the door for bid opportunities.
What specific resources are school boards struggling to procure?
Well, one of the most glaring resource procurement issues relates to internet access and the widening digital divide amongst U.S families since schools have closed. Nationwide, there is a severe lack of internet access for people of color, lower-income households, and rural residents. And, while this issue has existed for decades, since the virus's outbreak, it's been thrust into the spotlight as an urgent concern.
As a result, school boards are in especially difficult position as they ramp up the use of technology and digital tools to accommodate learning at a distance. Narrowing the divide won't be simple - or cheap - for school boards either. Thus, this is another area where close monitoring of school board agendas is going to be important for vendors as education leaders actively search for solutions and programs to put devices in the hands of all students.
How is the pandemic challenging the competitive bidding process?
First, temporary building closures and stay at home orders have thrown a wrench in routine processes - like getting bids notarized, for example. Without places to do these types of things in person, vendors and local school boards alike have had to create new strategies to accommodate the bidding process at a distance, including allowing for electronic bidding and signatures.
A more complex example is the federal procurement rules that local governments must adhere to when applying for FEMA Public Assistance grants. These grants are subject to the federal procurement rules under the Uniform Guidance (2.C.F.R. Part 200, Subpart D). So, in the case of local governments seeking FEMA reimbursements for COVID-19 protection-related expenses incurred through contracts, those contracts must comply with federal bidding requirements - not to mention state bidding requirements. Confusing isn't it?
Considering all these factors, what's the key to success for vendors and suppliers during COVID-19?
It's simple: robust monitoring of the school board agendas and procurement policy making in the states and local areas in which you operate. A close, in-depth eye on those procurement discussions is the only way organizations can identify bidding opportunities early. Moreover, monitoring is going to be especially important as state and local governments continue to amend and revise procurement standards and compliance with competitive bidding requirements grows in difficulty.
Gain the Insight and Perspective You Need to Stay Proactive
The scale of this unprecedented moment in history must be a wake-up call vendors and suppliers. Using a 'business as usual' approach is no longer enough to effectively operate and achieve results. It's more important than ever for businesses to seize this moment by implementing processes and solutions that can provide immediate information and visibility into how school bidding processes are being reshaped across the 50 states.
At Stateside, issue expertise, state expertise, client knowledge and robust use of many information resources are our hallmarks. Our approach to monitoring includes a staff of seasoned in-house professionals, customizable delivery options and unmatched staff support - all of which are aligned with your needs and expectations. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you custom track and report on the key school procurement issues that impact your organization and bottom line.
Meet Stephanie Reich, Vice President of State and Local Issues
Stephanie Reich provides clients with advocacy consulting, strategic planning and State and Local Groups engagement support and manages Stateside’s Local Government Monitoring practice. With over 14 years of corporate government relations and public service experience Stephanie brings Stateside clients unique expertise and an extraordinary network. Throughout her professional career, she has focused on finding strategic ways to better the communities in which she lives and works. Complete bio here.