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The Art of the School Purchase Order

by Don Sumwalt
Woodwind and Brasswind

Regardless if you are a seasoned director or a first year teacher, your program relies on you being able to purchase the equipment you need. To be able to do this, you must master the art of the school purchase order, or P.O. as it is sometimes referred to. This school document is the lifeline for obtaining instruments and equipment for your program. However, by not paying attention to a few small details when using this document, problems with a purchase order can become an unanticipated obstacle creating delays that you do not need. The steps that follow are designed to help you manage the purchase order and to make this document work in the most efficient way possible.

To properly fill out a purchase order, please remember the following:
  1. Make sure the purchase order contains a complete billing and shipping address. This helps the vendor ensure that they are able to ship the items to the correct destination, usually the school or a district warehouse receiving location. The billing address should be clearly marked on the purchase order; the billing for the items you requested gets to the proper department and the correct budget funds are used for payment of the order.
  2. Always check that the items you are ordering are listed with the current price. Also, the purchase order must include the proper amount for shipping and handling charges. If not, the process that a vendor takes to obtain approval for price adjustments can delay the processing of your order.
  3. Always include a description of the item ordered with the vendor’s product code, catalog number, and brand / model number so that the vendor knows exactly what you want. Be clear on the quantity of the items you are ordering and, if you are ordering multiple amounts of an item, that the price matches the quantity listed.
  4. If your order was the result of a pricing bid process, include the statement “Pricing per Bid” on your purchase order. This helps the vendor assure that your order receives the proper pricing and avoids delay in processing.
  5. Verify that the purchase order contains the correct authorized signatures. These may include signatures from a department chair, bookkeeper, purchasing agent, principal or superintendent. Purchase orders cannot be processed without the correct signatures. Ask which signatures your school requires.
  6. Determine if your school can fax a purchase order or if they require the purchase order to be mailed to the vendor. If this is not clear, your school may not place your order in a timely manner. If your school is faxing the purchase order first and then mailing a copy to the vendor, make sure to include the statement “Confirmation of Faxed Order” on the mailed copy. This directs the vendor to not duplicate the order.
  7. Always take into consideration that all information on the purchase order must be clearly indicated on the order. If your school requires you to submit a requisition form for a purchase order, precise information avoids any mistakes your purchasing department could make when transferring items from the requisition to the purchase order.
  8. Ask about your school’s policy concerning backordered items. Some districts have a standing policy of not allowing items to be backordered from a vendor. If this is the case for your school, determine if your school can make authorization for backorders when necessary. This will prevent problems in obtaining the items you request.
  9. Plan Ahead! At times, obtaining a purchase order can be a long process. If you know you will need items in advance, place your orders early to allow time to process the purchase order. Purchase orders with unclear or incomplete information take longer to process and ship from the vendor.

Now you have a deeper insight on the administrative side of being a music teacher. By taking a few minutes to learn the way your school’s purchase order process works, your orders will be filled correctly and in a timely manner.