Purchase Order Woes

Here is what drives me nuts about education finance. We are asked to operate as a business yet; we are not allowed to follow the same rules as businesses in regards to purchasing and acquisitioning.  We need upgrades in how we purchase materials.  I know, another cost that we cant afford. Many districts are already instituting best practices on this, however some are still far behind.

I understand the need for oversight and the ability to maintain checks and balances to prevent things like fraudulent transactions, but why are so many districts still using antiquated and old-fashioned means to pay for goods?  I mean how is it that the “preferred” vendor is almost always 20% more than Amazon?  I’m sure someone has a logical answer for me about this. So please feel free to leave me a message.

A  few years ago I received my first STEM grant, and I was excited beyond belief.  When I took my check to the bookstore and had it deposited, I was horrified only afterward to find out that the money I had worked hard to raise was not allowed to buy any of the items on the list I had wrote the grant for.

What most people don’t understand is that because I am a school entity, I am no longer allowed to follow the same rules of capitalism that everyone else does. In other words, I can’t just buy what I need. I am limited to only certain approved vendors and businesses that take purchase orders. What is a purchase order you ask?? That’s a good question. I’ll let you know when I find out…. J/K  Let’s just say no regular business accepts them and when they do, they are usually the most expensive vendor on the approved vendor list.

You can imagine when I took my first shopping list to our bookstore lady and told her I needed three ballistic parachutes, a 1.3 MH long-range transmitter, and a radar dish. She very nicely explained to me I could have whatever was in this Scientific Catalog that was approved. Needless to say, that wasn’t going to be possible, and only because I had a principal that cared, was I able to literally get off the ground with my new near space program.

But what about the teacher that didn’t get the front office support.  I’m pretty sure you are or know of someone in this same situation. In other words, you A) couldn’t buy it B) had to buy something more expensive and C) had to buy a product of less quality. It’s frustrating being siloed into your choices and even more so into buying something you don’t really want and paying double for it.

To fill this void, businesses like Donors Choose circumnavigate the educational finance circus and allow you to order materials directly from their website, crowdfund the items, and then have those goods sent directly to you. Don’t get me wrong I love Donors Choose, it means I’m getting stuff I need, but that 25% administrative donation is annoying.  Especially in many cases where if the powers that be would just let me buy what I wanted online with a credit card I would save that donation fee and get an additional 10-30% off what I actually wanted. Versus being forced to buy sub-par stuff at an inflated cost.

Here in Arizona, every district is different. Some have more flexibility in their finances, and others do not. One thing is for sure if your lucky enough to have some money to spend at all; good for you. The fact you even have a budget not in the red makes you like a one-percenter in this state.

So “when” (keeping my fingers crossed) we finally get fully funded schools in Arizona, I hope that part of that conversation is also how we spend our funds. I’m not saying without rules and procedures, but with additional flexibility and upgraded technology that will allow folks like me to shop for the best deal for my program.




Mike Vargas

My name is Mike Vargas. I am a proud recipient of the 2014 ASTA Arizona HS Science Teacher of the Year award and I am a 2016 AEF Arizona Teacher of the Year Ambassador for Excellence. I earned my undergraduate degree from Northern Arizona University where I was Vice – President of the Associated Students, a recipient of the Gold Axe, and President’s Prize awards. I am an advocate for physics first instruction and I am leading a movement to double the current number of physics teachers in Arizona in the next 5 years. I teach high school physics at Pinnacle High School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District.

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