By Tina Comeau
The Tri-County Regional School Board is concerned that a provincial procurement agreement is costing it more in money and in delays when it comes to purchasing goods and services.
And the fact the only one of 35 supplies on an approved procurement list is a business from the tri-counties bothers the board.
“I find it very discouraging that there is only one supplier in all of tri-county that we are permitted to have the latitude to buy from,” board member Elizabeth Acker said during the board’s monthly April meeting.
The school board has drafted a resolution on the issue to present at the Nova Scotia School Boards Association’s annual general meeting. It will also send a letter outlining its concerns to the municipal units in the tri-counties, the area’s MLAs and the minister of education.
As well, board staff has been asked to prepare a report comparing the cost now to what it was prior to the procurement agreement.
“If we are responsible to the taxpayers of Nova Scotia, we are mandated with a certain amount of money and we should be able to spend that money as prudently as we possibly can and continue to support the small businesses in the tri-counties,” Acker said.
The provincial government has directed school boards to make their purchases under the provincial purchasing agreement. Purchases would be for such areas as office products, furniture, technology services and vehicle parts and maintenance.
The board’s director of operations Steve Stoddart said the procurement policy has added roughly 19 per cent to the board’s costs. He said a main expenditure is courier and delivery costs. Then there is also the wait time for some of the goods and services that have been ordered that is of concern.
The school board had sent a letter to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development outlining their concerns.
“Not only does this put an added pressure on our already stretched budget, it also places a negative financial impact on our struggling local economy,” wrote board chair Donna Tidd. “We feel very strongly that if our staff can purchase locally for the same price or cheaper than the companies that were awarded these contracts, we should have the authority to do so.”
Frank Dunn, the department’s acting deputy minister, responded back to the school board saying that “unfortunately, the school board will not have the latitude to procure product outside of the contractual obligations that have been established.”
Dunn said the same procurement rules apply to all government departments, as well as all associated broader entities of government, including school boards.
“The procurement strategy focuses on goods and services that the province buys across all government departments, district health authorities, school board, etc.,” he wrote in a letter of response. “As a result, government expects to see considerable savings both in the short and long term. Those savings can be redirected, in the case of school boards, back into the public education system.”
Dunn acknowledges that as is the case with all new contracts, there is a transition period to get used to the new procedure.
“Government recognizes that higher than usual pricing may occur on some items, mainly due to the fact some items are not as readily stocked and available,” he added.
However the board feels the procurement agreement doesn’t take geography into account, nor the concept of supporting local business.
“We do have a lot of vehicles. We spend a lot of money on maintenance and upkeep and I find it very discouraging that we cannot go to our local businesses,” Acker said during the discussion at the last board meeting.
And then there is the added cost, which Tidd referenced in the board’s letter to the department, saying, “Although we understand there were savings overall to the province, we feel it should not be at a cost to the Tri-County Regional School Board.”