Smart Practices: Purchasing and Student Services

Purchasing and student services include non-instructional services provided by school districts such as purchasing, transportation, and food services.

Some districts have found savings in student services, particularly transportation and food service.

* Enrollment is approximate.


Purchasing cooperatives offer their member districts better prices than they can obtain on their own by pooling their orders. A number of co-ops are available to Texas schools, including the Comptroller’s State of Texas Co-op and others offered through regional educational service centers and other organizations. Co-ops also reduce administrative and advertising costs associated with purchasing.

District County Enrollment* Smart Practice Savings
Alief Harris 45,150 Uses several purchasing co-ops to obtain the best prices on goods and services; requires multiple quotes for each purchase. Uses the Information and Communications Technology Cooperative administered by the Department of Information Resources for technology purchases. Acquired an automated warehouse restocking system that helped it reduce its inventory. $154,000 annually
Aransas County Aransas 3,050 Uses the Region 2 Education Service Center Multi-Regional Purchasing Program to obtain paper, athletic supplies, library books, custodial supplies and instructional equipment. $217,000 annually
Cedar Hill Dallas 8,100 Participates in several purchasing cooperatives; eliminated its need for a warehouse by having vendors deliver supplies directly to campuses. $50,000 annually from direct delivery
Coppell Dallas 10,000 Participates in several purchasing cooperatives; collaborates with other districts to refine its internal purchasing processes. $11,000 annually
Dallas Dallas 157,200 Participates in several purchasing cooperatives, some providing rebates based on annual usage. Has a discount-price agreement with a presort mail distributor to pickup, sort, barcode and deliver all outgoing first class mail to the U.S. Post Office. Mail agreement saves the district $63,000 annually
El Paso El Paso 62,100 Uses a variety of group purchasing arrangements, including BuyBoard, the Texas Cooperative Purchasing Network, the Comptroller’s State of Texas Co-op, DIR, TX-MAS, the National Joint Powers Alliance, U.S. Communities and the Region 19, 17, 13 and 4 Educational Service Center cooperatives. $1 million annually
Irving ISD Dallas 34,140 Uses a district-wide copier contract that has a very low flat lease rate. All black and white copies and supplies are included at no additional charge. This eliminates overage charges and staff time. More than $200,000 annually
Irving ISD Dallas 34,140 When the administration, campuses, maintenance, and operation groups make purchases above $2,000 the district gets multiple quotes. In addition, six quotes are requested for all printed apparel orders. Continuous price comparisons allow the district to purchase at the most fair cost. $100,000 annually
Kingsville ISD Kleberg 4,000 Participates in an energy purchasing consortium created by the Region 2 Education Service Center. $358,000 annually
KIPP Houston (Charter) Harris 3,450 Purchases some supplies including copiers and other printing devices through a group purchasing organization. $70,000 annually
McAllen Hidalgo 25,000 Participates in co-ops offered through the Region 1 Education Service Center. Recently signed a 24-month electricity supply contract expected to save the district more than $1.5 million. $1.5 million
Mission Hidalgo 15,450 Uses several purchasing co-ops; used BuyBoard to consolidate districtwide copier leases. $90,000 on copier leases
Mumford Robertson 550 Purchases 85 percent of its school supplies through the Harris County Purchasing Cooperative, a service of the Harris County Department of Education, saving at least 30 percent. $63,000 annually
Nazareth Castro 250 Participates in BuyBoard and co-ops offered through its region’s Educational Service Center; continually compares prices to other vendors and tracks the annual prices per item. Recently saved $4,000 on two vehicle purchases through BuyBoard
Round Rock Williamson 41,500 District librarians review new books for publishers in exchange for donations of books for school libraries. $35,000 annually
Silverton Briscoe 200 Participates in West Texas Purchasing Cooperative. $23,000 annually
Spring Branch Harris 32,300 Benchmarks its processes and procedures to determine the best purchasing methods. To find the best prices for goods and services, the district runs internal reports on current and previous expenditures with each vendor. In addition, the district shares vendor references with other school districts. $146,000 annually

Shared Services and Contracting

School districts have found many innovative and economical ways to share or contract for services. Through shared-service arrangements, districts can combine resources with other entities to provide services more efficiently and effectively. These arrangements often allow smaller school districts to benefit from economies of scale.

The most common shared services in Texas public education involve instructional programs, such as special education and alternative education, which are expensive to provide. Many small districts contract with their region’s Education Service Center for payroll, benefit and other business services.

District County Enrollment* Smart Practice Savings
Alpine Brewster 1,100 Alpine ISD serves as fiscal agent for a special education co-op of 11 districts. The co-op shares the cost of an occupational therapist for about $75,000 per year, half the contract price of $150,000 per year. $75,000 annually for the co-op
Channing Hartley 139 Contracts with regional Education Service Center for all staff training for $2,000 per year. Participates in a special education cooperative with seven other school districts. The co-op employs a diagnostician, speech therapist and a director of special education. $18,000 to $23,000 annually in training costs; $55,000 annually in avoided cost for special education director and staff.
Darrouzett Lipscomb 150 Contracts with Region 16 ESC for accounting, budget, finance and payroll services. At least $20,000 annually
El Paso El Paso 62,100 The district’s print shop offers its services to smaller school districts, charter schools, the Region 19 Educational Service Center and other governmental entities in the county. The print shop realized a profit of $250,000 in 2010
Friendswood Galveston 5,967 Contracts with neighboring Clear Creek ISD for its disciplinary alternative education program (DAEP). Partners with the College of the Mainland for dual-credit courses taught at Friendswood High. $285,000 annually on DAEP
Gustine Comanche 228 Contracts with the Region 14 Educational Service Center for all its business services. $60,000 annually
Kenedy County-Wide Kenedy 88 Contracts for nearly all business services, including payroll accounting, human resources and budget reporting. $50,000 annually
Loop Gaines 127 Recently joined the Region 17 Educational Service Center’s Employee Benefits Cooperative (EBC), which administers benefits for 68 districts. The EBC co-op provides 125/129 flex and 403(b) administration at no additional cost and offers billing and payroll reconciliation. No savings estimate, but allows the district to offer additional services to its staff
Meadow Terry 266 Obtains accounting and financial services as well as other business office support functions from the Region 17 Education Service Center. $45,000 annually
Nazareth Castro 250 Obtains staff training as well as library, technology and business support from the Region 16 Educational Service Center. Shares a nurse with two other school districts and a speech pathologist with one. Nurse/speech pathologist arrangements save $60,000 annually
Nueces Canyon Edward 269 Participates in the Region 15 Business Services Cooperative for accounting and financial services. $20,000 annually
Olton Lamb 722 Outsources technology services to a private vendor. $45,000 annually
Richard Milburn Academy (Charter) Nueces 253 Contracts with the Region 2 Educational Service Center for financial services and the processing of federal purchase orders. $22,000 annually
Richardson Dallas County 34,320 Contracts for a variety of services including curriculum writing and special education diagnostics. Uses the Region 10 Education Service Center as well as other contractors. Has a shared services agreement with Dallas County Schools for student busing services and a similar agreement with the city of Richardson for school resource officers. $2.5 million annually
Round Rock Williamson 41,500 Uses interlibrary loans to share print and non-print items between campuses. Would cost the district $241,000 if every library were required to purchase its own copy of the shared materials
Sands Dawson 220 Uses payroll and business office services provided by the Region 17 Education Service Center. $75,000 annually
Spring Branch Harris 32,300 After the retirement of two staff members, district consolidated their positions and contracted for the technical services they provided. Also shares a discipline alternative education placement program at the Harris County Department of Education with other districts. $200,000 from consolidated positions and technical service contracts; $1.5 million from shared DAEP
Wall Tom Green 1,001 Contracts with the Region 15 Educational Service Center for Internet connections, distance learning classes and “electronic field trips.” Participates with other districts in special education and alternative education shared service arrangements. Alternative education cooperative saves the district $300,000 annually


Many districts purchase fuel for buses and fleets through purchasing co-ops at a substantial savings. Computerized bus route scheduling has helped districts realize operational efficiencies and savings.

District County Enrollment* Smart Practice Savings
Alief Harris 45,150 Purchases fuel for its vehicles from the Region 4 Education Service Center, saving as much as 6 cents per gallon. $30,000 annually
Amarillo Potter 30,647 Has outsourced its transportation needs to a contractor that provides special needs transportation, regular route services, field trips and extracurricular services. $200,000 annually
Aubrey Denton 1,688 Has saved money by using buses on two routes each day. $214,000 annually
Cedar Hill Dallas 8,100 Contracts for bus service with Dallas County Schools, a special county school district offering various services including transportation. The district also staggers school start and end times to allow fewer buses to serve the same number of students. $550,000 annually
Coppell Dallas 10,000 Partnered with Dallas County Schools on the installation of a fuel storage tank, and is now buying fuel from Dallas County Schools at a discounted price. $14,000 annually
Corpus Christi Nueces 38,400 A new routing software program allows the district to route buses more efficiently, saving time and fuel costs. $2 million annually
Dallas Dallas 157,200 Contracts for biofuel produced by Dallas County Schools for its buses and other vehicles. $57,000 annually
El Paso El Paso 62,100 A three-tier bus schedule allows a single bus to serve an elementary school, middle school and high school in the same morning. New routing software analyzes student demographics and shortest distances for more efficient routing. Has acquired 52 additional liquid petroleum gas-fueled buses and replaced 108 older buses with poor gas mileage and frequent repair needs. Fleet maintenance software allows the district to closely monitor its preventive maintenance needs. $1.7 million annually
Idalou Lubbock 1,000 Contracts with a management company for transportation services, including hiring transportation staff, setting school routes and determining the number of buses needed to travel to events out of the district. No savings estimate, but annual transportation spending is $615,000 less than the average of similar districts
Pharr-SanJuan -Alamo Hidalgo 30,500 Busrouting, scheduling and planning software allows the district to analyze bus routes and pickup sites and adjust them quickly. The district has been able to optimize its routes, increasing efficiency and enhancing services. Eligible ridership counts and the identification of route duplication have generated cost reductions. No savings estimate, but annual transportation spending is $1,935,000 less than the average of similar districts
Red Lick Bowie 500 Participates in the Bowie County Transportation Cooperative, which provides home-to-school bus services for member districts. No savings estimate, but annual transportation spending is $52,000 less than the average of similar districts
Richardson Dallas 34,400 Contracts with Dallas County Schools for transportation services. No savings estimate, but annual transportation services spending is $4,623,000 less than the average for similar districts
Round Rock Williamson 41,500 Uses software system to manage its bus routes for optimum efficiency. Staff monitors the system and bus routes daily, looking for necessary adjustments to bus stops, routes or scheduling. The district also is paid to manage the transportation systems for two nearby, smaller districts. Savings and income total $1.9 million annually
San Angelo Tom Green 14,400 Participates in a fuel purchasing cooperative with the city of San Angelo, the Concho Valley Council of Governments and the Region 15 ESC. $100,000 annually

Food Services

Many districts buy food for school lunch programs through purchasing co-ops at a substantial savings. Food purchasing software has helped districts realize additional operational efficiencies and savings.

District County Enrollment* Smart Practice Savings
Alief Harris 45,150 Uses the Harris County Department of Education’s food cooperative to purchase produce, ice cream and commodity processing. Combined a federal programs supervisor position with a nutrition accountant position. To control expenses, district officials compare biweekly profit-and-loss statements to those from previous years, as well as to spending in similarly situated districts. Automated systems track annual commodity savings. $454,000 annually
Agua Dulce Nueces 400 Obtained a review of its food services by the Region 2 ESC nutrition staff, identifying areas for service improvement and savings. $13,000 annually
Alpine Brewster 1,100 Purchases food through the West Texas Food Bank at the Region 18 ESC. The high school consolidated two lunch serving times into one in the 2010-11 school year. No savings estimate, but annual food services spending is $85,000 less than the average of similar districts
Brownfield Terry 1,800 Is a member of the West Texas Food Purchasing Cooperative, which includes six regions and about 230 districts in West Texas. $15,000
Channing Hartley 150 Participates in the Region 16 and 17 ESC food purchasing co-ops. No savings estimate, but annual food service spending is $13,104 less than the average of similar districts
Coppell Dallas 10,000 Saves about 3 percent to 5 percent on food purchases made through a large regional purchasing cooperative of 12 school districts. $80,000 annually
Gladewater Gregg 2,100 Purchases bread and milk through the Comptroller’s Texas Procurement and Support Services (TPASS) Division. $19,000 annually
Richardson Dallas 34,320 Uses at least three food co-ops to find the best prices for various commodities. Benchmarks to other districts to ensure that it pays comparable prices and has the appropriate level of kitchen staff needed to prepare student meals. $500,000 annually
Rio Grande City Starr 10,100 Uses purchasing co-ops. Modifies menus to remove items deemed too expensive. Less-expensive commodities used when available as substitutes for requested purchases. Has reduced costs through attrition and the reassignment of food service personnel from cafeterias that were overstaffed, and reduced the number of labor-intensive items on its menus. $800,000 annually
Round Rock Williamson 41,500 Uses the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program’s (NSLP) to obtain low-cost food for free or reduced-price meals for eligible schoolchildren. NSLP’s “pass through” program, which allows the district to have foods sent directly from USDA warehouses to a food processor, saving the cost of shipping to the district. The processor then packages the food in ready-to-cook form and ships it to the district when needed, saving storage costs as well. $75,000 annually
Sabine Gregg 1,300 Purchases bread and milk through the Comptroller’s Texas TPASS Division. $11,000 annually
Shamrock Wheeler 400 Participates in a combined commodity purchasing co-op for Regions 16 and 17. No savings estimate, but annual food services spending is $46,000 less than the average of similar districts
Socorro El Paso 39,600 Outsourced food staffing services have reduced costs and overhead. $284,000
Spring Branch Harris 32,300 Maintains an accounting position in its Child Nutrition Services section that has significantly improved the district’s federal reporting, monitoring and costing of menus. The district also participates in the Harris County Cooperative Purchasing network and various state purchasing co-ops such as BuyBoard No savings estimate, but annual food services spending is $575,000 less than the average of similiar districts

View sources.

State of Texas CO-OP

Most Texas school districts belong to some purchasing cooperative, but even these may not be maximizing their opportunities for savings.

The Texas Comptroller’s office operates the Cooperative Purchasing Program (the State of Texas CO-OP) and its TxSmartBuy website. At this writing, 673 school districts and charter school operators are members.

More than 1,000 Texas school districts belong to the Texas Association of School Boards’ Local Government Purchasing Cooperative, also called BuyBoard. In some situations, they could save more through the State of Texas CO-OP.

For instance, the Comptroller’s procurement staff contacted vendors that have contracts through both the State of Texas CO-OP and BuyBoard to obtain pricing on three different school buses based on their contracts. In each case, the State of Texas CO-OP offered better prices than BuyBoard.

Source: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Shared Services in Texas
Public Education

Shared-service arrangements involve school districts combining resources with other entities to provide services more efficiently, taking advantage of economies of scale they cannot achieve on their own. The most common of these arrangements in Texas public education are for instructional programs, such as special education, adult basic education, disciplinary alternative education, bilingual education and vocational education.

Other examples of shared-service arrangements include:

  • Transportation Cooperatives – Dallas County Schools (DCS), a countywide district providing services to school districts primarily in Dallas County, provides daily transportation services to 60,000 students in ten area school districts. Cedar Hill ISD estimates annual transportation savings of $500,000 as a result.
  • Energy Purchasing – Texas school districts in areas with deregulated energy markets can take advantage of electric utility aggregators, organizations registered with the Public Utilities Commission that negotiate pooled energy purchases. Sands CISD reduced its energy rates by 40 percent through the use of an aggregator.

Source: Texas Education Agency

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