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State says Boston public schools overspending on book purchases

The Boston School Department has routinely skirted state bidding laws in buying novels, plays, and other books, causing it to potentially spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more than necessary, according to an investigation by the state Inspector General’s Office.

In many instances, the School Department paid more for the books than what members of the general public would spend when they buy them on the websites of national retailers, including some of the same vendors that the School Department uses, the investigation found.

The School Department not only overspends on the purchases of the books but also on shipping and handling, according to the investigation, which examined a sample of 233 purchases between April 1 and Sept 30, 2011.

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“Based on this sampling, the [Inspector General’s Office] believes that BPS could possibly save hundreds of thousands of dollars each year through more effective procurement practices,’’ Gregory Sullivan, the inspector general, wrote in a letter to Superintendent Carol R. Johnson on March 30.

The Globe obtained a copy of that letter today.

Johnson defended the School Department’s purchases of the books.

“We make every effort to use the public’s resources as efficiently as possible,’’ she said in a statement. “The examples cited in the Inspector General’s report are the exception rather than the rule. The Inspector General’s report states that the vast majority of BPS purchases — 98 percent — were below the $25,000 threshold for a competitive bid process.’’

However, Johnson added that the School Department will review recommendations made by the Inspector General and “implement any cost-saving strategies wherever possible.’’

Among the recommendations: Increase the coordination of book purchases among the district’s 125 schools. Currently, individual schools, programs, teachers and libraries can fill out purchase forms, which are then sent to the School Department’s business office for approval.

Once the business office confirms the school has the money to cover the order, the business office processes it, using the vendor indicated on the order form.

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