School Boards and Vendor Oversight

By Charles K. Trainor

Nationwide more than half a trillion dollars will be spent on K-12 education systems within the next school year. About $100 billion of that will be provided by the recently enacted federal stimulus package, with local taxpayers and state treasuries funding the balance.

The late Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois is believed to have said: “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” Five hundred billion dollars is, indeed, real money.

Stimulus funds are providing welcome relief to districts suffering from reduced state aid and lower-than-expected tax receipts. Of course, the money is being used to save teaching positions, extracurricular activities, and sports teams as well as additional programs and projects that were placed on hold because of budgetary constraints.

In anticipation of massive spending, school suppliers and service providers are working to get a piece of the action. Architects, construction companies, food service providers, bus companies, artificial turf installers, and others are ready to help districts spend when the money arrives.

Naturally, districts and parents want to preserve a high-quality education while keeping taxes affordable. While the stimulus monies will support both goals, taxpayer groups around the country have expressed concern about the current lack of financial oversight. People want to be assured that the influx of new dollars will be spent wisely.

Most vendors are reliable and honest, but some likely will take advantage of the lax controls over new spending. Boards are familiar with the extensive process of evaluation, often referred to as vetting, that occurs prior to hiring new administrators. The same process can be adapted to contracting with district vendors. 

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