Sports wear business frustrated Lambton schools will get gear online from now on

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A Wyoming business is voicing concern after learning all sports wear for local public schools will be supplied by companies in Ottawa and Toronto.

Tracey Cameron of Sewlutions Embroidery in Wyoming recently heard from one of the teachers of a local school that local schools would now have to work with the Lambton-Kent District School Board’s purchasing department to buy their team wear, trophies, uniforms and sports related items from two online companies – Marchant’s School Sports and Akran Marketing.

Until now, Cameron’s business supplied 11 local schools with sports items. She says about 30 per cent of her business will disappear with the move.

Cameron is not the only one losing business. Team Varsity Sales in Chatham will lose 90 per cent of its business.

“There was no warning,” says Cameron adding the board didn’t inform them before or after about the change.

The board’s Superintendent of Business, Brian McKay, says while this will be the first time team wear and trophies are being purchased like this, it is not a new phenomenon. In 2010, the provincial government passed the Broader Public Services Procurement Act. It made it mandatory for publicly funded entities like hospitals, schools, colleges and universities to purchase items as a collective to save money.

He says the policy is “open, fair and transparent.”

And McKay says the school board has saved money over the years using the Ontario Educational Collaborative Marketplace, although he could not say how much because of the competitive bidding process.

McKay says local suppliers will not be totally shut out of the process. If the schools cannot get what they need from the new online suppliers, the purchasing department at the board will work with them to find a local alternative.

But he says when it comes to setting up long-term contracts for services, “the day of local preference don’t exist anymore” because of the province procurement law.

“We get that local preference will always be important to our local businesses and our local communities and this does create difficulties for smaller local businesses. But we would encourage them to reach out to the OECM website for possibilities …it may be possible for them to expand their opportunities.”

He says some local businesses now provide services for educational institutions across the province. McKay says the team wear contract will come up for bidding again in 2018.

While the whole process is expected to save money, Cameron isn’t sure that’s the case.

She went to one of the new vendors and priced out an order she was preparing for a local school. It was “at least 30 per cent more than I would have charged.”

Sandy Huizinga, the purchasing director for the board, says that would be an inaccurate reflection of the price since school board receive preferential bulk buying prices.

Cameron is frustrated local school boards aren’t supporting local businesses. “Where do they think my dollars go? They go right back into my community, I shop here, I do business here. Where are the online companies going to spend their dollars; not here.”

And she believes it is just another way of diminishing local communities. “I like making the connections with teachers…this takes out that aspect of making the community closer. We’re losing that personal touch.”

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