CPS vendor restrictions force schools to increase spending

Courtesy of dailykos.com

Courtesy of dailykos.com

Clare Brennan, Staff Reporter

Corruption within the Chicago Public Schools system has been a much debated topic of late, but not everyone knows one particular rule that may be causing it.

The rule has to do with vendors, meaning any company from which a school wants to purchase goods or services. Every dollar of every CPS school must be spent on vendors that are approved by CPS themselves. This rule is in place to provide schools with the best possible quality of anything they buy while ensuring there is no careless spending or misuse of money.

Some, however, feel very strongly that the regulation does more harm than good. It has proven to be quite problematic for public schools all throughout Chicago who are scrambling for ways to make up for a severe lack of funding and impending budget cuts. Time and again, CPS insist that schools work through certain overpriced vendors.

Some categories only have one vendor, which not only limits schools’ product selection but also allows for a large increase in prices due to a lack of competition between companies. If a new vendor is specifically sponsored by a school and goes through the procurement process, it has the potential of gaining approved status, but this process is not easy.

“There are situations in which our hands are tied and we have to use certain vendors for certain things,” reported WY Principal Joyce Kenner. “It appears that those vendors cost us much more than they would if we could do it our own way…I absolutely feel like they are stumbling blocks that don’t need to be there.”

Kenner goes on how CPS restrictions have disrupted many of WY’s efforts to improve school conditions, whether that be receiving new bathrooms or an updated athletic field. But while WY and other selective enrollment schools suffer from the vendor rule, the neighborhood schools have taken a much harder blow.

According to DNAinfo, students at Wells High School, just north of WY, were in tears when their plans of building a new athletic field fell through. The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation – an organization that sets up fields in afflicted areas throughout America – partnered up with Wells to build them a field if enough money could be raised.

The foundation assisted the school in gathering $845,000 through fundraising and various donations and agreed to contribute $350,000 themselves. However, after two years of planning, CPS told Wells that they could not build the field using the foundation’s vendors. Construction came to a halt, causing some of the donations to be pulled.

CPS’ facilities team met with the foundation in December to discuss possible solutions and agreed to pony up $300,000. “We would never rule the possibility out of improving a school, especially if private money is available,” stated CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey. Still, CPS estimated the cost of a new field to be $4.9 million while the Ripken Foundation, having constructed 40 athletic fields across the country, estimated it to be $2.7 million.

The WY Beacon staff emailed Chicago’s Board of Education inquiring about the rule. The board responded to ask which school the newspaper belongs to, but did not answer any questions.

Despite all the recent uproar, CPS doesn’t plan to change their vendor restrictions any time soon. That doesn’t mean people are going to stay quiet, though. Heidi Bailey, Friends of Whitney Young secretary and mother of two WY students, summed up her feelings about the rule in an op-ed she submitted to the Chicago Tribune: “The true reality of our purchasing power is made evident by the grossly inflated bids staring back at us…Stop forcing schools and fundraising efforts to spend irresponsibly just because you do. It is time to change the way you do business on a very fundamental level.”