Espresso machines perk up interest in district procurement practices
Changes are brewing in the Chicago Public Schools’ purchasing policies now that the district’s inspector general has reviewed the acquisition of 30 cappuccino/espresso machines for use in a high school program. Total value of the coffeemakers: $67,928.
What’s more, five months after the units were acquired, 22 remained unopened, one was missing and three were being used at two schools – but not in the food service-culinary arts program they were purchased for. School personnel, it turns out, were never told that their buildings were going to be receiving the beverage units, so instructional staff didn’t know how to use the machines and weren’t prepared to incorporate them into the curriculum.
As explained in the inspector general’s (OIG) “Fiscal Year 2008 Report,” “The investigation revealed that the purchase of these machines was not competitively bid and as such the purchase violated Illinois law and Chicago Board of Education rules and policies.”
OIG investigators determined that a Chicago Public Schools manager orchestrated the purchase of the cappuccino/espresso machines to make it appear that separate purchases were being made by 21 different schools, with each purchase being less than $10,000 – the statutory threshold for competitive bidding and board approval.
School staff, noted the OIG, could be subject “to the criminal charge of stringing, defined as ‘knowingly structuring a contract or job order to avoid the contract or job order being subject to competitive bidding requirements.’” The espresso machine transaction, added the OIG, should have been endorsed as well by the school principals and local school councils.
Costly cappuccino caper
OIG calculations revealed that by not going out for competitive bids, the district overpaid for the machines, to the tune of $12,000, or 18 percent. The OIG determined that the same kinds of machines were available online at a lower price.
When asked about the OIG report, a Chicago Public Schools spokesman told GovPro.com: “We are in the process of reviewing and revising our procurement rules and policies to ensure that [Chicago Public Schools] districtwide competitive bidding practices adhere to statutory limits. As we review these policies, we will keep in mind the authority that individual principals have under state law to purchase items valued at less than $10,000.”
According to news reports, one Chicago Public Schools staffer was fired, and disciplinary action is pending against three other workers involved in the machine purchase.