Thursday, December 14, 2017
Education

Pasco school district may give bidding preference to local firms

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County School Board members never have hidden their desire to do as much business with local firms as possible.

But they've never boiled that preference down to written policy. Until now.

A proposal coming to the board for consideration on Tuesday would spell out that the district "prefers to purchase from businesses located in Pasco County" if all other criteria, such as cost and quality of supplies, are equal.

Current policy doesn't go that far. Instead, it allows the district to use "the location of county merchants" to break tie bids, without specifying which county.

Board chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong said she might not want to go farther. Armstrong said she agrees with the idea of supporting local businesses as a philosophy.

"We would certainly love it, if at all possible, to buy local," Armstrong said. "Those businesses with their taxes are helping support our school system. It only makes sense if we are able to put revenue back in those businesses. It can do nothing but strengthen our local tax base."

Fiscal responsibility must come first, though, she added, explaining that the lowest responsive bid must get top regard.

The times when two bids earn equal ranking by review teams are so minimal as to make this preference almost an anomaly, board member Joanne Hurley said. She recalled just one time in the past four years when such a scenario arose.

By contrast, Hurley said, establishing a local preference clause in district purchasing policy could have an unfortunate side effect.

If other nearby districts, including larger Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, adopted similar rules, she said, "our vendors might be frozen out of a contract. You have to be very careful when you look at something like that."

Hillsborough schools do not have a local preference clause in their purchasing policy, spokesman Stephen Hegarty said. The district can award bids to Florida firms if they bid within 5 percent of an out-of-state company, he said, and it also may grant contracts for services to local providers regardless of cost if proximity is critical to adequate performance.

Pasco board member Steve Luikart didn't share his colleagues' reticence. While running for his post in 2010, Luikart advocated giving priority to local businesses if their bids are otherwise equal to others.

"Why wouldn't I approve it?" he said. "I'm all for giving business back to the community."

The board will discuss this idea Tuesday during a workshop where several policy revisions are recommended. Many of the rewrites are based on changes to state laws and rules.

Before 2010, the board did not routinely revamp its policies to reflect current statute and other mandates. Since then, the district has made wide-scale revisions at least twice a year.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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