Instructional Material Contract Negotiations 101

By Jessica ZaleskiInstructional Material Vendor Contract Negotiation

Contract negotiations for new instructional material adoptions can have a huge impact on the inventory processes of a district, and with many districts depending on the Teaching & Learning Curriculum Department or Purchasing Department to handle contracts with vendors, it’s not uncommon for the district inventory manager to miss out on some important details of the contract negotiations they can have an impact on.

Below are a few tips for landing a contract that works for your inventory management needs.

Getting past your projected enrollment headaches

The benefits of involving an inventory manager in the contracting process for your instructional material purchases may help you meet the high expectations of getting resources in the hands of students and teachers at the beginning of the year.

Are you contractually able to return materials you don’t use? We have one client who was refunded over $100,000 in the first year of their new language arts adoption because they contracted with their vendor to return unused items.

Every district struggles to anticipate enrollment needs fearing two equally concerning events. One, under ordering and incurring rush shipping costs or backorders that leave students and teachers without resources. The second, the risk of over ordering results in the district having less money to spend on other needed resources and a stock of inventory that may never be utilized.

Because our customers’ inventory management team is able to identify unused and unnecessary inventory across the district in an efficient way, the district may have missed the opportunity to save thousands of dollars if they were not involved in the process.

Now that you know there are some districts who have the ability to return unused items for a refund, shouldn’t you consider getting that line item added to your own contract?

Free consumables for every student

When it comes to consumables, like workbooks, CDs, and posters, sometimes the vendor will include those in your package for free as a part of your contract. Greg Wright, the Instructional Materials Coordinator at Leander Independent School District, said that his best tip for getting free consumables is to be honest with the vendor and let them know what other vendors are offering you. “It’s kind of like building a house,” Wright said. “You have to go to other home builders and say, ‘These two companies are giving me free grass in the front and back yards and a fence all the way around, and you’re telling me you’re only going to put grass to the back of the house?’”

But be wary of the fine print. If you aren’t careful, the vendor will give you consumables for the first year of an adoption, but then these consumables your instruction requires and teachers love will never be refilled.

Wright has a great remedy for this. He recommends getting a signed letter of commitment from a Vice President or regional representative of the vendor that states for every book purchased, the district gets the free consumables for as long as the district has these books in use (not as long as the adoption, because the vendor could easily say the adoption has ended). “This is something that is usually not outside the norm,” he says. “So it’s not a big deal for them.”

How are your neighbors and peers fairing in their negotiations?

Knowledge is power, and this is no exception.  There are many examples of good contract negotiation that other districts have implemented into their process. Get in touch with the other coordinators in your state and pick their brains. Meet up with them at your next education conference, look them up online and schedule a phone call, identify how they have been successful in getting the most out of their vendor contracts.

Coming to vendor negotiations with some information on what kinds of compromises a vendor has allowed in the past may help you fare better in your current negotiations. The vendors will not supply this information if you don’t prompt them. The answer’s always no if you don’t ask. Familiarizing yourself with different types of conciliations may help you get the door open to money saving options that support your students and teachers.

What unique negotiating tactics have you seen used for instructional material contracts? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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