Principal Purchasing: The Ins and Outs

Principals have many decisions to make when it comes to purchasing for their school. The first question asked is how would this affect student learning? You may not think that purchasing replacement parts for an air conditioner would be part of this question, but ultimately every decision made by school leadership affects students and their learning, in one way or another.


Principals make big decisions on purchasing once a year. This usually happens over the summer when students are off campus and administration is looking to plan and organize for the new school year. Although purchasing happens throughout the year, items such as curriculum, office supplies, furniture, maintenance, etc. are purchased during the summer when the new school year’s budget is available.


The largest purchase for a school is curriculum. Year after year, schools purchase consumables and other curriculum to provide teachers and students with the resources needed to be successful. Professional Development is another major yearly purchase. Throughout the school year, principals and their staff constantly purchase smaller items that help the school run on a daily basis.


Principals purchase school items from a variety of vendors. Many times, Principals are expected to use vendors approved by their district. Vendors can be local or found online for purchasing. When deciding where to purchase from, Principals need to look at who is going to be cost efficient but also provide quality items. Vendors that are used vary from school and office supply companies to furniture suppliers. Warranties are a big draw for Principals as well. Vendors that are approved from the district office or from the Principal will usually have a contract. With this contract, many vendors give discounts when bulk orders are made. As a Principal, it would be the hope to build relationships with a variety of vendors. Building a relationship will help the vendors better understand the needs of the school and therefore better meet those needs with their products. Strong relationships like this give the Principal the confidence to continue the partnership year after year.


Many schools use a program to track purchases made throughout the year and place the purchases in the right category for budgeting purposes. When a purchase is needed, the Principal would be the first person to approve and depending on the district, there could be another approval needed before it is sent for purchase. This could include the Superintendent, members of finance, maintenance, curriculum, or even the CEO if the purchase is large scale. With this type of approval system, it helps Principals with checks and balances. The budget has to be taken into consideration with all purchases. Depending on the district, the Principal may have a more integral part in the purchasing for their school. Everything purchased needs to directly impact the school in areas of learning, safety and overall operations.

Purchasing for a school is a process. It takes a team to decide what is most needed and at what times of the year it is most important for purchasing. Many schools buy at the beginning of the year when the budget is provided for that school year. It is then that the Principal must decide what the needs of the school are and who to use when choosing vendors. Vendors who provide many different types of school products are more likely to be used as it then becomes a “one stop shop.” With that being said, if a relationship is built between a vendor and the school Principal, repeat purchasing is more likely than those who do not invest in learning the needs of the school.


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About the Author

Jennifer Little is a K-8 principal in Arizona. She has a background in early childhood as well as elementary education. She has experience as a teacher, instructional coach and assistant principal. With Master’s Degrees in Elementary Education and Educational Leadership, Jennifer has knowledge of what schools need to provide learning opportunities to all students. She is happily married and has two wonderful children.

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