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News / Clark County News

Vancouver Public Schools failed to award contracts to ‘highest-scoring’ bid, according to audit

Issue was with dairy purchases in federally funded lunch programs

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 16, 2024, 6:08am

Vancouver Public Schools failed to comply with federal procurement requirements in providing reduced-price meals during the 2022-2023 school year, according to findings in a routine audit released by the Washington State Auditor last week.

Like most public school districts, Vancouver participates in several federal programs, such as the Child Nutrition Program, National School Lunch Program and more, to provide free or reduced-price meals to students from low-income communities. The district received about $8.7 million in federal funding to maintain such programs in the 2022-2023 school year.

Districts select providers based on a series of “evaluation factors,” including cost and proximity, established by the federal government. Contracts must be awarded to the highest scoring bidder based on those factors.

Last week’s audit found Vancouver failed to award two dairy contracts to the highest-scoring bidder, and it had included the same two items — yogurt and sour cream — in two different bid categories. The total cost of the products was $680,142.

In response, the district argued the purchases in question did not lead to significant cost differences and that the duplicate purchases were intended to avoid potential shortages.

“The operational inefficiency of having to rework detailed menus when/if a single vendor is unable to meet our needs motivated us to select two vendors we could purchase these items from since these particular items have been most susceptible to supply shortages,” district spokeswoman Jessica Roberts said Wednesday. “At the time of purchase, we always chose the most cost-effective option.”

The audit found district employees were unaware the actions didn’t meet federal procurement requirements and recommended that the district make sure all future bids involving federal funds be physically reviewed by its chief financial officer.

Other updates

Last week’s audit report found no additional issues in Vancouver’s financial statements or handling of other federal awards between the period of Sept. 1, 2022, to Aug. 31, 2023.

It did, however, include an update on how the district handled a previous violation found in its 2022 routine audit when the district was found to have provided insufficient documentation of how it used millions of dollars from the federal Emergency Connectivity Fund program. The program awarded Vancouver more than $5 million to purchase technology necessary to facilitate remote education amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vancouver was not the only school district that encountered issues documenting the use of such funding in recent years; Battle Ground Public Schools was also marked for similar violations last year.

In an op-ed published last summer in The Seattle Times, state Auditor Pat McCarthy expressed concern with the size and complexity of the Emergency Connectivity Fund and other federal pandemic-era programs, as well as how the Federal Communication Commission’s instructions on documentation lacked effective details to help districts avoid mistakes.

Last week’s audit reported that Vancouver has since fully corrected the error.