Business Practices

Change Doesn't Need to be Disruptive

Transitioning to a new service vendor can be seamless if the business office adheres to a comprehensive process that includes vendor review, bid and implementation before going live.

Vendor Review

Districts should do an annual vendor review to consider whether changing vendors would improve the quality of service and pricing. Key people affected by this service or product can identify concerns and contribute to the decision about making the transition.

Bid Process

Although a bid process is not required for all vendor changes, it is required for specific contracts within a school district. Check state and federal regulations for information for your district.

The bid process should begin at least a few months before the end of the current contract. Review the current contract for specific requirements or penalties for cancellation. The contract might also have an annual automatic renewal with a specified cancellation notification period.

The success of a contract depends on providing vendors with a thorough bid document. Any service concerns with the current vendor that are identified through the vendor review process should be addressed specifically in the bid document. A pre-bid meeting for all interested vendors can address any questions.

And the Winner Is . . .

Once a contract is awarded to a new vendor, the following are key points to include in the implementation plan.

Set up a meeting with the vendor and the key employees to create the transition plan with a timeline. The transition plan should provide a detailed list of tasks, personnel responsible for completing each task, the date the task is to be completed and the actual completion date. Create a realistic timeline, keeping in mind that transitions never go perfectly and that the people responsible for completing the tasks have other responsibilities as well.

Designate a district project manager who will be the main contact person for the implementation.

Review with the new vendor any equipment or technology requirements for the new service. The district must start the purchasing process early enough to ensure that equipment is received well before the start of the contract.

Identify those who need to be notified of the change — the staff, general public, board of education, parents and students — and create the appropriate notifications.

Consider whether staff training seminars are necessary. When setting up training seminars, review the following questions:

  • Who needs training? Support staff, administrators or instructional staff?
  • Do the various levels of staff have different responsibilities with the new vendor? For example, do administrators, support staff or management need training on approvals?
  • Are there training time limitations, such as after-school or evenings? Would holidays, school breaks or scheduled district events prevent key members of the transition from attending?

Training guides and resources should be available for employees on a shared drive for ongoing reference. Many times, the vendor will provide training guides; however, each district might have to create its own policies and procedures.

As the training and implementation process comes to an end, the project manager should initiate the new vendor process with the business office. This process will involve gathering the certificate of insurance (if applicable), Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification (IRS Form W-9) and the vendor billing contact name and address. Other paperwork might include contract documents, such as bus drivers’ motor vehicle report or state certification.

Finally, if the service providers are going to be onsite in the schools or district office, ensure that all security measures — such as background checks and fingerprinting — are taken, in addition to issuing ID badges, keys and a district email address (if necessary).

The New Relationship

At the beginning of the contract it might be necessary to visit each site to see firsthand how the new service is going. That is also a good time to schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss any concerns or necessary changes. Throughout the process, keep accurate notes on concerns, decisions or specific information that might be needed as reference for future contracts.

Transitioning to a new vendor requires commitment and dedication to ensure that all stakeholders benefit. From the first vendor review meeting to the “go live” date, it is imperative to involve the key members of the school district to make the process as seamless as possible.

— This article is excerpted from the March 2017 issue of School Business Affairs magazine, published by the Association of School Business Officials International. www.asbointl.org.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Robyn Stirmell is finance manager for East Maine School District 63 in Illinois.

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