If the "make or buy" analysis leads school administrators to consider hiring an outside provider, the next step is to prepare a Request for Proposal (RFP). The RFP invites contractors to submit bids, or proposals, for performance of the service under consideration. The RFP describes the service needs of the school district and any unique circumstances it wishes the respondent to accommodate. In order for respondents to have the best chance at drafting a proposal that meets the needs of the schools, school administrators must be open and upfront about their needs, resources, and capabilities. The RFP should strive to be informational, not exclusive. It should be specific enough to elicit useful proposals, but not so narrowly focused that it eliminates creative service options or leads to the potentially corrupt practice of benefiting a single, predetermined vendor.
"A good RFP will detail what is wanted in the proposal. Otherwise the public agency will get a myriad of different proposals from everyone," advises John Donlevy, of Donlevy Administrative Services. Not only that, specificity in the RFP will make the evaluation process easier later on. Donlevy describes one poorly designed RFP which resulted in a contractor submitting a proposal that was 600 pages long.
Space does not allow for a complete description of model RFPs, but, in general, an RFP should include the following components identified by John Donlevy. Legal counsel should be consulted before entering into any legally binding agreement.
A. Soliciting Proposals: Key Components of the RFP
Introduction and Overview. This section briefly describes the services to be contracted. It also includes the following:
Background (the reasons why the contracts are being solicited).
Definitions commonly used within the text of the RFP.
Program Objectives describing what the school district wants to accomplish.
Service Description. This section tells the contractor exactly what services are wanted. Descriptive elements are often included as appendices when a lot of detail is related to the service. In addition, this section includes:
Term of the contract and renewal provisions.
Location where the service will be performed.
Participation, or who can participate in the bidding process.
Exclusivity, which often refers to whether the company awarded the contract will become the exclusive provider of a service.
Procedures which must be followed by the contractor.
Statistical data related to the service such as current utilization of the service, square footage of building and grounds, and student enrollment.
Scope of Services. This section should define the services to be provided and the school district's expectations of the service provider. Included are:
Service Parameters that provide a detailed description of the specific services requested. For example, a contract for custodial services might specify that the contractor provide cleaning equipment and supplies, a certain number of employee-training hours, and supervisory personnel.
Quality Standards that describe the level of quality which must be met by the provider. For example, a contract for food service would specify requirements such as minimum nutritional requirements for meals, sanitary conditions, and menu variety.
Backup or substitute requirements if the contractor is unable to provide a service.
Insurance and Bonding Requirements. Performance bonding is a type of financial insurance for schools should the contractor fail to perform and the school be forced to obtain replacement services.
Permits and Licenses.
Reporting and data requirements.
Quality Assurances. This is often expressed as a guarantee to the school district by the contractor that certain expectations will be met. For example, a food-service contract may specify that the contractor will absorb any losses related to the operation of the schools' cafeterias.
Submission of Proposal. This section describes the conditions under which proposals must be submitted and describes their form. Provisions might include statements on:
Acceptance and Terms of Conditions.
Rights of Rejection for the Agency.
Financial Responsibility or a statement explaining that the school district will not pay for costs of developing the proposal.
Award of Contract or who will pay, how it will be awarded, when and how many will be awarded the contract.
Number of Copies of Original Proposal.
Execution of Proposals (typically the president or principals of the company are required to sign the proposal).
Terms of Withdrawal or Cancellation (90 days from submittal date is typical).
Content of Proposal. The RFP also directs contractors what to include in the proposal itself. See Section C.
B. Bidders Conference
Early in the bidding process, the school district should bring prospective contractors to the school site to discuss the services described in the RFP. The purpose of such a meeting is ((( to give bidders as much information as possible about the particular needs of the school district so appropriate proposals may be drafted.))) Prospective contractors should have open access to relevant school records, equipment, and facilities for inspection purposes.
C. Content of Proposal
The contractor responds to the RFP, usually within a specific time period set by the district, with a written proposal. At a minimum, the proposal should contain the following information:
Cover Letter and Table of Contents.
Areas of Interest, if multiple contract areas are included.
Background and Experience in providing such a service.
Description of Services to be provided.
Financial Plan, including pro forma, and fees.
Description of Implementation Plan.
Identification of Personnel on the project, for example, the qualifications of staff to be involved.
Internal Quality Assurance Provisions. The contractor describes how it will achieve and protect service quality. This could include, for example, drug testing of personnel or company licensing or certification requirements. It may also describe the type of equipment, supplies, or ingredients used by the company.
Equipment and Maintenance Practices.
Financial Background (fiscal health of the contractor).
References to other customers/clients.
D. Evaluating Proposals and Awarding the Contract
Once the proposals have been collected, the important process of selecting a contractor begins. Appendix III describes the essential principles which should be followed in any contracting process. Typically, a team of school administrators is involved in the review process. Cost is just one of many factors to be considered. Other common evaluation criteria include:
Adherence to submittal format described in the RFP (see Section A above).
Professional/technical competence (the ability to perform the work)
Record of past performance.
Capabilities to meet required schedules and standards.
Approach to work. This is a catch-all that describes the general managerial approach, or "feel" of the company. School-decision makers should look for a company that provides the best "fit" with the local school district's environment and goals.
Federal law requires school districts and other public agencies to be objective in how they evaluate contractors in a public bid. To assist in this process, some school-decision makers may wish to use a weighting system to help them evaluate the various proposals before them. A weighting system is also a good evaluation format when the proposal must be assessed against a number of different criteria. Table 2 presents a hypothetical example of how such a system would work.
As soon as it has selected a provider, the evaluation team should announce the bid award at an open, public meeting in keeping with the transparent nature of the bidding process. School administrators may wish to schedule further meetings with the private contractor to discuss any details overlooked in the bidding process. Ultimately a contract is signed by both parties binding them to the terms of their agreement.
The contracts themselves tend to be standardized documents and may contain far less detail than the RFP or proposal. Therefore, the RFP and/or proposal are often included as addenda to the contract, providing the specific details of the agreement.