Miami-Dade schools weigh bidding break for local vendors
By Jacquelyn Weiner
Local businesses could gain extra advantage in winning Miami-Dade County Public Schools contracts should school board members approve a proposed local-incentive policy.
The policy change, originally proposed by Board Member Renier Diaz de la Portilla last year, is to be discussed at the Miami-Dade County School Board's Sept. 7 meeting.
"My intent from the beginning was to have a policy where, all things being equal, a local vendor would win a bid or contract," Mr. Diaz de la Portilla said.
The legislation isn't final, but the administration has been working on the policy with the school board's audit committee, said John Schuster, chief communications officer for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
As outlined in Mr. Diaz de la Portilla's initiative discussed at a November 2010 school board meeting, the district local-vendor preference policy should consider "the feasibility of enabling a local company whose bid is within 5% of the lowest bid — when the lowest bidder is not a local business — to match that offer and win the contract."
It should also take into account existing Miami-Dade County policies giving local businesses a leg up in procurement and how a local business should be defined, according to documents summarizing the proposal.
The proposal goes on to say that "by establishing a local vendor preference policy, similar to that of the County and other governmental entities throughout the state, this Board would help strengthen the local economy and foster economic growth."
Terms being explored, according to a draft of a Miami-Dade County Public Schools Local Preference Policy, give local preference to businesses located in Miami-Dade County when evaluating bids "for the purchase of goods and services, professional and construction related services, in excess of $50,000… or the current formal bidding threshold."
The draft document defines a local business as having "a valid business license, issued by a jurisdiction located in Miami-Dade County," and a street address in the county at least a year before the bid or proposal opens.
For competitive bids, local businesses within 5% of the lowest bid — if the lowest bid came from a non-local firm — could submit a best and final offer, according to the draft.
The contract would then be awarded to the qualifying business with the lowest bid.
For request for proposals, a local vendor that met technical qualifications and was competing with a non-local proposer could proceed with evaluations, according to the draft, so long as its price was within 5% of the non-local vendor.
For professional services, according to the draft, local firm would be ranked above non-local firms if their qualitative scores were within 5% of each other.
Mr. Diaz de la Portilla said he expects unanimous support for the local preference policy — although the terms aren't yet written into proposed legislation — at the September school board meeting.
Board member Carlos Curbelo said he is "in favor of local preference policies as long as they don't interfere with competitive policies."
He added that his support could waiver if the proposed policy could have a negative fiscal impact.
"I don't want the district to have to spend significant amounts of additional dollars just because we're going to assist a local firm," Mr. Curbelo said.
Board member Raquel Regalado said creating a policy that builds on current preferences for minority vendors without opening opportunities for abuse is key.
"We have to create a system that is more in tune with our local community…but at the same time be cautious," Ms. Regalado said.
One concern to be addressed, she said: "There is a possibility that someone might stack the minority and the local vendor preference."
Establishing local-preference policies is nothing new.
Other Florida entities with such policies include Leon County and the Flagler Public School District, the City of Naples, Martin County and St. Lucie County.
Miami-Dade County has long had local business preference policies.
In addition, City of Miami commissioners in July voted 5-0 to increase the local-vendor advantage.
The changes to procurement included increasing local preference from 10% to 15% for sealed bids and certain public-works contracts.
In addition, the city added a "best and final offer" clause allowing other companies with offers within that 15% threshold to resubmit their bids.
Other additions include a 5% local-preference criterion for certain request for proposals, request for letters of interest and request for qualifications.
Under the city's code, maintaining a local office means a business must conduct "all or a portion of its operations from a permanent structure" located within city limits, operating at least six months before the bid or proposal was received.
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