03.21.2023 by David Garza and Sam Areias

K-12 Procurement and the Search for Approved Contract Items: Takeaways from the 2023 TASBO Engage Conference


Procurement is a vital part of K–12 administration, yet it can be challenging for administrators and teachers to navigate their districts’ established procurement practices. The 2023 TASBO Engage conference in San Antonio, TX provided administrators and teachers with an insightful forum to discuss procurement challenges and identify solutions. In our conversations with this year’s attendees, we explored the importance of efficient procurement practices and how a modern solution can help districts streamline their procurement process, encourage user adoption, and ultimately redirect more focus toward important education goals.

Procurement policies and procedures

Districts of all sizes require solutions to purchase compliant contract items efficiently. While larger districts often rely on a central buyer, smaller districts may be more flexible. This flexibility might provide each teacher with a specific budget and the autonomy to make purchases on their own. The teacher is then responsible for making wise purchasing decisions within the budget allotted to them.

Regardless of whether your district is large, small, or somewhere in between, it’s important for K–12 schools to establish clear purchasing policies and procedures. To facilitate compliance, teachers and other buyers in the district need access to items from approved, reliable suppliers. But it’s not always easy to know which suppliers are approved. Regardless of barriers, efficient use of federal grant money requires staff to navigate all available contracts in order to find approved pricing. This process requires skillful navigation, especially for districts reliant on antiquated procurement systems.

Increasing purchasing compliance

Attendees at this year’s TASBO Engage Conference described familiar pain points: The first procurement challenge teachers face is to find the contracts. This task may be easier in districts where staff is regularly notified about newly approved items, though not always. Once the contracts are located, teachers must then take time to compare prices and find the best value. But the items they need aren’t always available through the district’s approved suppliers, leading to further procurement delays. This routine can be especially daunting for districts that still rely on paper processes.

Administrators want to increase purchasing compliance in a way that makes funding go further. A modernized procurement system can help districts achieve these goals by making procurement easier and more accessible.

When assessing your current procurement processes, consider the following:

  • Does the district’s teaching staff understand how and where they can purchase approved contract items? How are they notified when a new supplier contract has been approved or if a new piggyback contract (shared contract) becomes available?
  • What tools has the district provided to help teachers to compare the prices of similar approved items?
  • How do teachers typically procure goods that aren’t currently available through approved contracts?
  • How frequently do sourcing delays lead to off-contract purchasing? How does this impact budgets?

Efficient procurement saves bandwidth and strengthens budgets

The primary focus of administrators is to provide a safer and more fostering environment for students to learn. Inefficient procurement workflows impact compliance, leading districts to spend more time and energy maintaining protocols for appropriate use of funds. Districts that make their procurement processes more efficient stand to benefit from greater compliance that requires less oversight. These improvements ultimately save bandwidth, giving administrators more time to focus on the most rewarding parts of their jobs.

Identifying solutions and encouraging adoption

Some teachers are especially open to adopting process improvements. They’re willing to try nearly anything they think might save time and leave them more bandwidth to focus on their main goals. Others may be more wary, taking an “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. Both perspectives are valid. Improved processes, for all their benefit, can involve an adjustment period. It is therefore important to consider the learning curve associated with any procurement technology upgrade.

A modern procurement solution that requires minimal training will typically be easier for a district to adopt. When teachers see how easy it is to procure the items they need, it allows them to feel more comfortable with the solution and seamlessly incorporate it into their routine. This consistent adoption is the key to benefiting from the tools offered within a new procurement system.


Administrators are focused on providing a safer and more fostering environment for students to learn. When more efficient procurement practices are adopted, districts can save time while increasing compliance. An improved procurement solution can help teachers quickly and comfortably find new and existing contract items, making it easier to enforce compliance and reduce off-contract spending. Increased efficiency restores bandwidth, allowing you to redirect more focus toward important education goals.

A modern, user-friendly solution like Varis can help your district satisfy compliance requirements by making it easier to streamline procurement and encourage user adoption. Varis’ marketplace offers districts access to competitive pre-negotiated public sector contracts alongside your existing contract items, all with clear approval workflows to help keep purchases within budget.