By Allan Gribbin, School District 8 Trustee
In my last article, I took issue with the board of trustees only receiving a few days notice before being expected to approve a $750,000 purchase of laptop computers for students. In the public board meeting, I objected to the board being informed and presented with the information about this major purchase on short notice. I made a motion that we take an extra month to examine the purchase.
Needless to say, I was the only trustee who supported this motion to slow the purchase process to provide careful examination, and I was also the only trustee who voted to oppose the purchase in the manner that it was presented to the board.
I continued to ask questions of district administration after that meeting, questions that apparently are not welcomed. I was concerned that a hasty decision to approve this purchase would lead to mistakes, and now I am even more concerned. Now, let me explain.
Your school board and district administration are expected to follow policy. Policies are basically rules or laws put in place to ensure the safe and efficient operation of our schools.
School board policy #642 deals with purchasing and procurement and includes this statement:
“The District’s procurement activities must be conducted with integrity and the highest standard of ethical conduct. All individuals involved with the District’s procurement activities must act in a manner that is consistent with the principles and objectives of this policy.”
As I read through the administrative procedures of this procurement policy, I realized that one of the first procedures that the school district is expected to follow is to “purchase locally, whenever and wherever possible” as long as we are getting similar value for money. No business closer than Kelowna was even given the opportunity to tender a bid on the purchase of the laptops.
It is important that we support local businesses, and indeed, it is required by school district policy. Our local businesses and the families pay millions of dollars in local and school taxes and I believe that it is the responsibility of the board of trustees to insist that they are at least given a fair chance to bid on contracts. In deliberations with the board, I have argued that even if local businesses are initially unsuccessful, they would still benefit by being in a better position to make successful bids in the future.
At the last public board meeting, it was confirmed by school district staff that no local businesses were either contacted or even informed that the computer purchase was in the offing. At that same meeting, I was accused by a senior staff member of knowingly spreading false information with regard to board policy not being followed. However, I was never given an explanation as to why the district ignored its policy of giving local business an opportunity to participate in a bidding process.
The day following the meeting, I continued to press for answers. The email response that I received from district staff was that I didn’t have a point and to quit wasting their time.
If standing up for district policy and questioning a $750,000 purchase is a waste of district time, then I feel that the policy isn’t worth the paper that it is printed on. What other businesses can be overlooked in future district purchases if our local computer suppliers were ignored with this purchase and asking questions is simply brushed off as a waste of staff time?
Not one other trustee has yet to speak out on this issue and in support of local business.