Procurement Tips

This past week, PrimeroEdge attended the PASBO 61st Annual Conference in the closest place to Willy Wonka’s factory: Hershey, Pennsylvania. A dieter’s worst nightmare, Hershey offered all the Reese’s, Kisses, and of course, Hershey Bars one could ask for. Luckily for the attendees – and their waistlines – PASBO offered much more than just a sugar crash.

For those new to the industry or Pennsylvania, PASBO stands for the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials. The association’s primary aim is helping schools in the state stay on top of the latest regulations and news. While attending the event, I was lucky enough to sit in on Cecilia Beauduy’s presentation on Procurement Procedures for Food Service. Cecilia works for the Pennsylvania Department of Education Division of Food and Nutrition, and her presentation gave the inside scoop on the do’s and don’ts for procurement.

Because Hershey, Pennsylvania wasn’t on all our vacation calendars, I’ve decided to share Cecilia’s best practices for procurement from her PASBO session.

Select Procurement Method

There are three types of procurement methods, and each type is determined by the dollar threshold:

  • Micro-Purchase
  • Informal Procurement
  • Formal Procurement

Micro-Purchase Threshold

To fall under a micro-purchase, the supplies or services cannot exceed $3,500. As long as the supply or service is under $3,500, it counts as a micro-purchase – so think paper, a blender, etc. Despite the lower dollar amount, keep in mind the USDA requires, “all procurement, regardless of the dollar amount, must provide for full and open competition.”

Informal Procurement

The school district needs to provide specifications/product descriptions that offer enough detail for vendors to respond adequately. Another big point: schools must receive quotations from three responsible vendors. If three vendors do not exist, school districts may go with less but must thoroughly document why this is the case.

For Informal Procurement, cash is king. The lowest responsible bidder is always awarded the contract (2CFR 200.318(h)).

Formal Procurement

The last form of procurement is formal procurement. These are the larger ticket items and come in two flavors: Invitation for Bid (IFB) and Request for Proposal (RFP). Whether it be an IFB or RFP, districts must advertise their request in two major newspapers for three weeks.

For those outside of Pennsylvania, check your state guidelines.


Invitation for Bid

IFBs – or “sealed bids” – are typically used to procure a product/good and not a service. While IFBs need to be specific, they cannot be overly restrictive. Specifying a brand is a no-no unless an “equal” product is also permitted. As with Informal Procurement, the request is awarded based solely on cost.

Request for Proposal

RFPs are used to procure qualitative services. The big differentiation between the IFB and RFP is that cost is not the sole factor in awarding RFPs. Everything from experience, technical resources and past performance are considered when awarding RFPs. Districts also must be sure that their evaluation methods are identified and public; districts often use a point scale for scoring competitors.

Managing Contracts

Just because a contract is awarded doesn’t mean school districts are off the hook. USDA requires that districts “must maintain oversight to ensure that [the] contractor performs in accordance with terms, conditions, and specifications of their contracts.” (2 CFR 200.318(b))

Districts need to keep an eye out to make sure they receive the goods/services requested, are charged the correct prices and receive their goods/services on time.


PASBO might not have helped my diet, but it definitely gave me and the other attendees insight on what’s happening in the industry. Cecilia Beauduy’s presentation on procurement helped refresh my knowledge, but be sure to comment below and let us know what you think. In the meantime, I’ll be taking it easy on the chocolate.