If you can imagine it, chances are Canyons District’s purchasing agents have purchased it.
After all, it takes more than books, erasers, and pencil sharpeners to keep the District’s 50 schools and programs running smoothly. There are cleaning supplies to be stocked, school buses to be maintained with all their moving parts, and cafeterias to be filled with a steady supply of tasty ingredients.
But the pandemic tested the skills and limits of even the most seasoned procurement professionals. “The rules didn’t change. We were still charged with getting the right products for the right price
in the right amount of time to our schools and departments while being transparent and accountable for taxpayer dollars,” said CSD’s Director of Purchasing Director Gary Hansen who has 40 years of buying experience. “But suddenly, not only were we faced with having to purchase unfamiliar products like face masks and specialized air filters, we had to purchase them in bulk. We were competing with everyone else in the world for these products, and we had a limited amount of time to secure them so we could safely operate our schools.”
To honor the behind-the-scenes work of these unsung heroes, Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox has declared March 2022 “Utah Purchasing Month.”
Purchasing is a profession governed by rules. If a school needs goods or services, the District then begins a competitive process to find the most responsible and responsive bidder, or vendor.
“The public procurement process sometimes takes longer than people have patience for, because of the rules and hoops we have to jump through. But we’ve been lucky because we have good relationships with our business partners,” Hansen said.
The past two years have reinforced the important of those relationships, as well as the relationships that Hansen’s team has with his CSD colleagues and fellow purchasing pros. Faced with the bulk buying of face masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray, and other technical materials, schools turned to area experts at the University of Utah to ensure they were getting products with the right specifications.
Chromebooks to support remote-learners had to be acquired by the tens-of-thousands along with livestreaming equipment for classrooms. “We relied on our own IT team for guidance with that,” Hansen said.
In Canyons, the pandemic coincided with three massive construction projects — the rebuilds of Brighton and Hillcrest high schools and the renovation of Alta High — and it’s Hansen’s department that works with contractors to obtain all the building supplies and furniture and equipment for those buildings.
The added twist of supply-chain delays and labor shortages meant some items had to be stockpiled when they were available. Remember the run on toilet paper? Canyons District has about 1,000 restrooms to maintain.
Prices for some items are rising so quickly that vendors can only honor their prices for a month or so. “It’s caused us to be more attuned to the market,” Hansen said.
If the challenges were great, Hansen said he is more proud than ever of his team. “We save the District and its taxpayers millions of dollars annually, and these past few years were no different,” he said.
Case in point: CSD purchasing agent Nancy Webb’s leadership role in the UCARE purchasing cooperative of about 20 school districts has been vital to securing food for lunchrooms at the right price. The Utah Cooperative for Acquiring Resources Efficiently was created to give smaller school districts greater bargaining power with food suppliers and is now drawing interest from more districts.
“We have a great team and we love what we do,” Hansen said, “which makes all the difference in the world.”re gett