On a nondescript street in Pico Rivera, an enormous warehouse stands, guarding millions of dollars worth of goods.
It's not full of priceless art, gold or jewels.
Its treasure trove is comprised of pencils, playground equipment, janitors’ buckets – all the myriad items schools needs throughout the year. In this case, about 800 schools.
The warehouse is the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Procurement Services Center. It brings in and distributes nearly 3,000 different items to schools in the district.
Marc Monforte, director of Material Management and Purchasing for L.A. Unified said the warehouse provides "one-stop shopping" for principals.
“Everything from athletic items, sporting goods, audio/visual, science, forms and publications, music - all those various things you’d see in a school,” he said
The building is enormous - approximately 390,000 square feet with row upon row of shelves that climb toward the 40-foot ceiling. In one part of the warehouse, mountains of paper towel packages and reams of computer paper tower. In another, thousands of gray trashcans stood stacked, awaiting distribution as part of the district’s Breakfast in the Classroom program.
It’s a massive undertaking to keep the nation’s second-largest school district running. The center has a fleet of hundreds of trucks and trailers, with 120 drivers working each day to deliver cafeteria meals, mail, furniture and supplies.
The enormous space allows the center to purchase and store items in massive bulk. It then offers these wares to individual schools at discounted prices. Its operations are funded by the sales it makes to the district’s schools, each of which manages its own budget.
“Every individual school has an individual budget, and they spend that budget as they choose. They can come to buy from our facility, or they can buy from outside,” said Monforte. “Sometimes part of our difficulty is trying to get them to come over and buy things from us for a lower price.”
That difficulty has increased as a result of the district’s recent budget troubles. Monforte said the center had to reduce its buying staff by half, which forced individual schools to do more of their own outside purchasing.
The warehouse's sales to district schools have dropped by 43 percent over five years to $33 million. He blames the reduced purchasing.
That drop may have also been due in part to increased competition from outside vendors such as Office Depot and other school supply stores.
“It seems that they’re looking for a little bit more business specifically from public schools,” said Karen Sulahian, principal of Glenfeliz Boulevard Elementary School. “They’ll do special deals like five percent off for schools, or special shipping, or if your parents sign up and buy their school supplies, then your school will get the kickback for a certain amount of money.”
On top of that, there’s also the matter of personal preference.
“Most of our supplies, we’re happy to take from the district warehouse," she said. "But sometimes we prefer the pencils from another vendor."