One technique is obvious, according to LeeAnn Pomplun, director of purchasing, who deals with vendors.
"This past year, we've just started asking them, 'Is this the best you can do?'" Pomplun told the school board at its meeting Tuesday. She said vendors often know about the district's budget problems and are willing to help out.
"It's a $30 savings here and a $20 savings there," she said. "That can add up."
Pomplun said everyone in purchasing is making a concerted effort to negotiate, sometimes with big savings.
"That's what purchasing does every day," she said. "This is what we do all the time, and not only during the budget crunch. It really is a team effort."
One big cost-saver is piggybacking, which allows any state agency to buy at a cost already negotiated down by another agency, as long as it's exactly the same product.
Meanwhile, the school board may look into lowering the threshold for bids so that more contracts require direct board approval. Currently, maintenance projects have a $15,000 cap before needing board approval, while others, for supplies, materials and services, have a $78,500 cap.
"I definitely think it's something we need to explore," board member Jamie Hintzke said.
While lowering the amount required for board approval could save money, it could also mean extra work for administrators and a longer approval process, according to Luz Cazares, assistant superintendent of business services.
"It would probably add on something," she said. "We would have to tie that item to a board meeting. We do use some discretion about bringing items to the board."
Pomplun said the change could end up costing the district money if a bid needs to be re-advertised after being rejected by the board.
The board recently approved cutting an estimated $8 million for the 2010-11 school year after cutting $11 million for the current year and $2 million last year. Much of the shortfall is due to less state funding for schools although local developer fees, which in earlier years had provided $2 million and more to the district, have withered with the economy, providing only $300,000 this year.