Choosing a facilities management provider for your school should be simple. However, anyone who’s gone through the solicitation process for educational facility services knows it can be complex – and, if done incorrectly, creates more issues than it solves.

If you’re a school administrator, you’re probably comfortable with the solicitation process for commodities. It’s familiar; most schools have managed it enough times to know what to expect. But there’s a vast difference between services and commodities, and trying to shoehorn a services solicitation into the same process for commodities won’t get the results you want. Ask the right questions, find the right provider.

To help define and smooth the solicitation process, we’re answering common questions we hear from school administrators – whether for a K-12 district, a community college, or a four-year university.

Are there different kinds of RFP?

While RFP is the most common term used to describe solicitations, it’s just one of the three types you’ll see in educational institutions. Here’s what they are and how they differ:

Request for Proposal (RFP)

An RFP is best suited to a request for services with highly technical or complex specifications that can be achieved through a variety of methods – like facilities management programs. The RFP will ask proposers to explain exactly how they intend to provide the required services to meet the scope of work specifications. Additionally, RFPs often require proposers to show the experience they have with projects of similar size and scope.

Detailed information about pricing, staffing, onboarding, leadership, and references are all typically requested in an RFP as well, to give schools a clear, complete picture of each potential contractor.

Once responses have been submitted, a team of stakeholders assess the proposals, following up with additional in-depth questions and presentations from finalists. Savvy committees look for experience and a program that will meet the needs of the school, with price as a secondary factor.

Invitation to Negotiate (ITN)

Like an RFP, an ITN can help school administrators with more complex service needs. With an ITN, proposers are asked for technical descriptions of capabilities and pricing from prospective contractors. Once sealed proposals are opened, negotiations begin with the top-qualifying proposer in an effort to get the best value. If an agreement is not reached, the school begins negotiations with the second qualifying proposer.

Invitation to Bid (ITB)

The ITB process does not involve the more complex evaluation and negotiations typical of RFPs and ITNs. Rather, all sealed bids are opened at the same time and ranked based on the lowest “responsive and responsible bidder.” That terminology allows the school to disqualify any bids they don’t believe can meet the specifications.

There are typically no finalist presentations or follow-up questions. Because of this, ITBs are most useful for commodities, when the objective is simply to find the lowest price. This is where service programs and commodities differ.

Why not use the same solicitation process for facilities services and commodities?

Commodities don’t involve the same complex, high-touch “human factor” that services do. Using the same solicitation process for both can prevent facilities management providers from doing their best work.

In any competent service program, a large percentage of overall cost (often 60 to 80 percent) goes to labor. It follows, then, that using an ITB for a service program means choosing the vendor who is willing to cut the most corners. This forces a “race to the bottom” to see which provider will take on the most risk through low wages, low-priced equipment, reduced staffing, and other cost-cutting measures. For service programs, the ITB process is the epitome of “you get what you pay for.”

Even with more complex RFP processes, price can carry too much weight. Schools often set up price evaluations to award 100 percent of the possible points to the lowest-priced provider, regardless of the proposer’s qualifications. Each higher price is assigned fewer points based on its percentage over the lowest price.

Using this points formula, a low price can skew the rest of the scoring so significantly that other vital criteria – like experience, staffing strategies, equipment choices, and competitive wages – are rendered moot. This has rarely, if ever, led to a satisfactory facilities program in any school.

What criteria should schools use to evaluate proposals?

While price has to be a factor, awarding more RFP “points” to experience and proven results can achieve a more well-rounded service program. When outlining your award criteria, look for:

  • A focus on educational institutions
  • Partnerships with schools of similar size and project scope
  • Industry expertise and best practices
  • Clear, detailed plans for the transition, start-up phase, and complete scope of work
  • A workplace culture that supports and promotes team members
  • Meaningful capital investments in equipment and technology
  • Leadership – corporate and onsite – that understands your school’s unique needs

These are vitally important qualities for any facilities management team, but most of these don’t have a dollar value attached. By weighting them appropriately in your RFP evaluation, you’ll get a full understanding of how each possible provider will treat your time and money.

Contracted services support your school’s core mission

For school, custodial, grounds, and maintenance programs are classified as “auxiliary services,” not a core focus. For professional service providers, however, your facilities program is their core focus. A nuanced solicitation process helps identify a facilities provider that will take full responsibility for your “auxiliary services,” allowing your school to focus fully on its educational mission.

Ultimately, adopting more flexible methodologies and weighting within solicitations results in better options and more complete evaluations – all while staying focused on the primary goal. It also empowers schools to choose a facilities team that will deliver the best long-term goals and outcomes, not just the proposer willing to take the biggest risk.

Work with the right facilities management team

Want to know more about how HES builds partnerships from the moment we submit a proposal? Contact us at


The illustrations, instructions, and principles contained in this website are general in scope and for marketing purposes. We assume no responsibility for: managing or controlling customer activities, implementing any recommended measures, or identifying all potential hazards.