In this slow economy, school districts across the nation are experiencing budget reductions, and procurement professionals are considering whether the public would be better served through joint purchasing efforts. Joint purchasing agreements allow government agencies to cooperate with one another to achieve economies of scale and reduce duplication of efforts. The basic assumption is that larger service jurisdictions make lower per unit costs possible. Economies are achieved either by pooling the resources of two or more jurisdictions to jointly provide services or by contracting with a single, large regional service provider.

Joint purchasing contracts are competitively bid and include a clause that allows other government entities to take advantage of the contract pricing on the awarded contract. There is a prerequisite that any government entity wishing to utilize the awarded contract has a signed joint purchasing agreement on file with the entity awarding the contract. School districts annually save taxpayers millions of dollars using joint purchasing contracts because of reduced pricing for high-volume purchases, and lower costs for advertising and bidding.

Joint purchasing relationships can be formed in multiple ways. One way is to bid and award a contract for the many identical items used in many of the school districts across the nation. Another opportunity available to the K-12 community is the interlocal agreement, which permits the awarding entity and another local government agency to enter into agreements in the interest of cooperatively sharing resources for their mutual benefit. Improved efficiency can result from specialization where one jurisdiction provides specialized services to one or more neighboring jurisdictions. Service Cooperatives are another way for the K-12 community to save taxpayers' dollars.

The K-12 community has access to many joint purchasing resources. From local to interlocal and state to national service cooperatives, the K-12 community can save taxpayers millions of dollars. The K-12 community needs to become familiar with and review the options available and decide which programs, if any, offer the best solution for the school district's budget and needs.

Working together and sharing in joint purchasing opportunities is a vital part of the purchasing process today. School districts can no longer survive as separate entities. They must take advantage of the opportunities to partner with other districts locally, statewide and nationally.

Kathleen Bergquist, C.P.M., R.S.B.O., is the director of purchasing for Anoka-Hennepin ISD #11, in Coon Rapids, Minn.

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