Article: Tech Business Class Pitches School Supply Savings Plan

Mar 7, 2019 | Business, Impact

Note: This article appeared in the Ruston Daily Leader on March 6, 2019. 
Written by Caleb Daniel

All children in the United States are legally entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). To Lincoln Parish Schools Superintendent Mike Milstead, finding a way to help families purchase school supplies would greatly strengthen the parish’s provision of FAPE.

Thanks to a collaboration with a class in Louisiana Tech University’s College of Business, a potential plan to centralize the purchase of grades K-5 school supplies for the district is in the works.

In February, Kevin Watson’s MGMT 460 Strategic Sourcing class presented a plan to Milstead, school administrators and central office staff that, if implemented, could save Lincoln Parish families as much as $94,000 in school supply costs.

“We deal with parents and kids from time to time who indicate they can’t afford to pay for the supplies,” Milstead said. “So if we could save them money or even find a way to purchase supplies for them outright, then we would follow through on providing a Free Appropriate Public Education.”

When Milstead expressed this desire to the district’s Parental Advisory Board last fall, he was approached by Watson, a supply chain management professor at Tech, who offered to have his class investigate the possibility of saving money through bulk ordering supplies for the district.

“Supply chain is a very hands-on field, so we are always looking for opportunities to expose our students to real-world problems,” Watson said. “So I asked Mike if he would like 40-plus student volunteers to work on this endeavor for him.”

Milstead agreed, and Watson’s students went to work, forming teams, conducting research, and building a viable business case for bringing all the elementary schools’ supply purchasing under one roof.

Currently, families purchase their own school supplies based on a school-by-school and grade-by-grade list published by the district.
Jordan Slack, a senior in supply chain management and one of the project team leaders, said this method is much less efficient and cost-effective than their plan to pool the full purchasing power of the parish.

“When August comes around, you have all these different stores with different prices,” Slack said. “If you’re trying to go around and price match each item, your gas and time you spend go up exponentially.

“But if you don’t, then you’re not getting the best price.”

Slack and his classmates consolidated all the K-5 grade supply lists in the parish, compared them to enrollment numbers provided by Milstead, sourced the prices for each item and sent out requests for quotation to bulk suppliers.

The class found that K-5 families would have to spend a bare minimum of $86.60 to buy all required school supplies.

Meanwhile, with the quantity discounts present in the proposed plan, that cost would go down to an average of $46.58 per student, netting a savings of about $94,000 for parish families as a whole.

“The only way we can achieve this type of savings is if we use the full purchasing power of the parish, essentially consolidating all the buying power of the parents who already go out and get these things,” Slack said.

Slack and his classmates presented their findings to Milstead and various school administrators Feb. 14 and then again to the Parental Advisory Board Feb. 21.

Milstead said he was impressed with the convenience the plan could provide for both the district and especially the parents.

“Instead of spending considerable time shopping different vendors, it would allow parents to not have to go through that process,” he said. “We could purchase it all and save them some money.”

Time and money, the two elements that stand to be saved through this plan, are also the main two things standing in its way, Milstead said, though he anticipates the district’s school supply fund should be able to accommodate Watson’s class’s plan.

“It’s already March, and we’d need to make sure those supplies are in the district by the first of July in order to break down the bulk shipment and get them to schools in a timely fashion,” Milstead said.

The next step would be to appoint an employee or even hire someone from the Tech class to facilitate the details of the purchasing plan.

“If we’re able to do that, and I don’t see any reason why we can’t, then we can make this happen,” he said. “This is a common sense move for us.”

Watson said from his standpoint the project has already been a “huge success.”

“The students were able to work on a real-world sourcing problem involving hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending,” he said. “They learned valuable lessons that they will take with them to their jobs.”

Slack said through this project he has received an unparalleled learning experience.

“I honestly believe I would not have been able to experience this type of learning situation without the College of Business,” he said. “Just the idea that we can offer this amount of savings and positive community impact while also getting an amazing amount of experience on the subject of strategic sourcing — there’s not a comparable experience.”