TOPEKA — The Legislature’s plan to compel all 286 school districts to begin purchasing goods and services through contracts negotiated by the Kansas Department of Administration — starting with computers and food — appears to have been shelved.
Neither House nor Senate advocates have been able to generate sufficient traction for the efficiency bill amid challenges by opponents raising questions of cost, logistics, quality and the potential sacrifice of local jobs to out-of-state suppliers. Criticism emerged despite an implementation date of July 1, 2017, and inclusion of targeted exemptions.
“The reason we have this bill is to try to have school districts save money,” said Rep. Amanda Grosserode, a Lenexa Republican and chairwoman of the House Education Budget Committee.
During House debate on the concept, skepticism of the proposed state mandate was significant enough for representatives to vote 69-52 to send House Bill 2729 back to the committee led by Grosserode. Companion legislation, Senate Bill 499, was the subject of a committee hearing, but has since been collecting dust.
The Legislature adjourned for a one-month holiday Thursday without picking up threads of the recommendation first raised in the state government efficiency report submitted by the Alvarez and Marsal firm to lawmakers in January.
Officials of the Topeka and Blue Valley school districts registered opposition to the House bill, along with the Kansas Association of School Boards. Implementation of the reform would cost the state $467,000 annually because of the hiring of six new state employees to manage the purchasing program.
Rep. Sue Boldra, R-Hays, and Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield, argued the top-down strategy for purchasing computer software or milk and cheese for students could conflict with precise needs of school districts and damage local economies.
“I don’t think this works for rural Kansas,” Boldra said.
Forcing districts to rely on the Department of Administration could result in contracts with low-bid suppliers based outside of Kansas, Trimmer said.
“You may have a situation where you will lose local jobs,” said Rep. Henry Helgerson, D-Eastborough.
Grosserode’s committee agreed prior to sending the bill to the floor to drop a requirement for centralization of school district electricity contracts, as well as maintenance, repair and operational services. Sensing deeper trouble during debate Tuesday on the House floor, Grosserode gained approval of an amendment exempting school fuel purchases from the bill.
The move reflected complaints by school district officials and the petroleum industry, she said. In short, inclusion of fuel in the legislation would be impractical because most districts don’t have facilities to store vast quantities of diesel or gasoline.
Rep. Mark Hutton, R-Wichita, followed by securing an exemption for construction management services contracted by school districts.
These exclusions were added to provisions approved by the House to exempt purchases of items or services not on the Department of Administration’s approved list, items that may be procured locally if the cost was no more than 3 percent higher than the state’s bid or items that may be procured through a public or private consortium serving multiple districts.
Districts would be able to bypass the state mandate if they document in writing that purchases outside the Department of Administration were driven by quality differences.
After the flurry of comments from Republicans and Democrats objecting to the House bill, the motion was made to send the legislation back to Grosserode’s committee.
Before that motion was approved, House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg, urged the Republican-led House to live up to their campaign rhetoric by supporting the efficiency bill.
“Are we true to the statements we make when we go door to door?” he said.