FALMOUTH — A purchasing consultant has saved Falmouth’s school district more than $16,000 on office and classroom supplies this year, leading one resident to question whether similar savings can be found elsewhere without help from a paid expert.

The savings also have pushed the Greater Portland Council of Governments to reconsider its bidding practices on behalf of 85 municipalities and school districts across southern Maine.

James Caldwell, a Falmouth resident who works for an international expense-reduction firm, reviewed the Falmouth School District’s annual spending on everything from index cards to glue sticks.

“Whatever we save on supplies we can put into educational programs,” said Dan O’Shea, the district’s finance and operations director.

Annual spending on supplies exceeded $111,000 under a cooperative purchasing agreement with W.B. Mason that was negotiated for the district as a member of the Greater Portland Council of Governments.

Caldwell sought bids from other major suppliers, including Staples and Office Depot, and ultimately negotiated better prices and payment incentives with W.B. Mason. That resulted in savings for the district of about $16,400 (17 percent) per year for three years, according to Caldwell’s report, which he issued in May and the district released Monday.

Caldwell’s fee is 50 percent of the district’s annual savings over two years – $16,400, according to his contract. He negotiated potential additional savings of as much as $2,500 per year, which the district may receive through rebates and by making early payments.

In all, the district will save at least $32,800 on supplies over three years after paying Caldwell for his purchasing expertise.

O’Shea has been working for about two years with Randy Davis, the town’s purchasing agent, to share and reduce costs. In addition, the school district has reduced costs for supplies and other discretionary spending by 22.4 percent in recent years, from $625,000 in 2005-06 to $485,000 in 2011-12, said Superintendent Barbara Powers.

O’Shea hired Caldwell in February at the recommendation of Beth Franklin, a former School Board member and chairwoman. Caldwell is a former manufacturing efficiency manager who owns a regional franchise of Expense Reduction Analysts, a network of cost-cutting experts in 30 countries, including 250 analysts in the United States.

The firm helps companies and government agencies reduce spending on everything from telecommunications to waste management. Its analysts charge nothing for their services if they cannot identify savings.

Caldwell said Monday that the Greater Portland Council of Governments had negotiated good prices with W.B Mason. In fact, he couldn’t beat the cooperative’s bulk price for copier paper, which is $2.59 per ream.

However, he did negotiate lower prices on many other supplies, with help from a network colleague in Indianapolis who’s an office-supply purchasing expert. Staples beat W.B. Mason’s bid by about $500 per year, but Caldwell recommended that Falmouth schools stick with W.B. Mason to maintain product quality and customer service.

The resulting savings didn’t surprise Michael Doyle, a Falmouth resident who believes savings can be found in other areas, including the district’s contracts for fuel, electricity, copiers and printers.

Doyle said town officials should always seek competitive bids for school and municipal contracts, rather than accept prices negotiated by cooperatives such as the Greater Portland Council of Governments and Maine Power Options.

“I think Dan O’Shea ought to be able to do the work we pay him for,” Doyle said. “It’s crazy to pay (a consultant) $8,000 to save $8,000 on office supplies. We’re hiring people to come in and tell us what furniture to buy for the new elementary school and predict how many students will be at the high school. Why are we farming out everything?”

Caldwell said he has offered to do a similar review of the district’s telecommunications, copier and printer contracts.

The district generally seeks competitive bids for major purchases, as required by written policy, but it also gets significant savings through cooperative bidding, O’Shea said. He hopes the district will be able to negotiate lower prices with W.B. Mason in the future without Caldwell’s help.

Eben Marsh, cooperative services director for the Greater Portland Council of Governments, was surprised when he learned Monday that Caldwell had negotiated lower prices from W.B. Mason for Falmouth schools. He said the cooperative renegotiated a price agreement for office supplies last fall without seeking competitive bids.

“The difference has to be a matter of timing and the market,” Marsh said. “You can be sure we’ll be putting office supplies out to bid this time, probably by the end of the year.”

Marsh said he plans to contact W.B. Mason today to find out why the Brockton, Mass., company underbid its own contract with a member of the council, which seeks competitive prices on 16 commodities each year, from road salt to street signs. Members buy $16 million worth of goods through cooperative agreements each year, Marsh said, saving about 10 percent on what they would spend individually.

“Our approach has worked for over 40 years,” he said. “There’s always someone coming up with a different way to do things, but 50 percent is quite a fee he’s getting.”

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]