According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are over 14,000 school districts in the United States. And most, if not all, of these school districts set aside funds of from the $500 billion they receive in education to purchase large amounts of products or services—anything from supplies, materials, equipment, construction, architectural and service contracts—from private business or agencies to fill the needs they have to conduct their education service.
These opportunities are usually open to anybody so, so contracting with public schools can be quite an important source of revenue for small businesses. And while the contract lengths, award amounts, submission requirements, and procurement practices will vary greatly from state to state and district to district, you can usually bet that each will generally work about the same way.
But first thing’s first: contact the right people. Some districts advertise their procurements online or by teleconference, but it’s always a good idea to contact the Department of Procurement and Contracts office directly to find out about listings as well as to hear about any rules and regulations they may have for soliciting and accepting bids. When contacting the contracts office it’s helpful to get answers to the following questions before you begin the bid process.
- Does the procurement and contract office accept unsolicited bids or does is it only accept bids from sponsored or approved vendors?
If the school only accepts previously approved vendors then this is a great place to find what you need to do to be put on that list.
- Do contractors need to satisfy any minority or women-owned business compliance requirements?
Just like agency contracts, public schools may have set-aside funds to promote contract opportunities to minority groups and small businesses.
- Does the procurement and contract office offer any pieces of training, technical assistance on specifications and qualified products, compliance reviews and inspections?
If they do, then don’t let these opportunities to learn more about the process as well as meet some key decision makers early in the process. Networking is key and an active presence at some meetings months before the procurement deadline can give you an advantage over the competition.
During the bid process be aware that different districts will have vastly different requisition tables citing specific amounts type of biddable or non-biddable goods, and policies for procurement at various levels. You’ll find that sometimes there are no contracts necessary for purchases under a certain amount, while competitive bidding is required for awards that fall within certain ranges. It’s impossible to list all the differences, but the procurement and contracts office will usually provide you this information as soon as you contact them.
Finally, when writing your bid be sure to follow the same guidelines you would if you were bidding for contracts issued by a government agency. Public schools’ procurement and contracts officers will be looking for at least these three things:
- Your capability to deliver a quality product or service
- Your ability to do so for the best value
- Your ability to deliver the products or services on schedule
With increasingly tightening budgets and often quarterly spending reviews from district school boards, procurement and contracts offices are feeling more and more pressure to get more bang for its buck. Demonstrate that your business is the ideal fit and the best solution to a specific need and you’ll be winning more public school contracts in no time.