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Davis, California

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Davis educational supply store loses school district to online vendors

Teach Your Children, Inc. closes amid turbulent relationship with Woodland Joint Unified School District

In February of 2017, Amazon brokered a deal with the public-sector buying cooperative U.S. Communities, which purchases supplies for schools. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance warned at the time that Amazon’s expansion into the public sector would harm cities, counties and school districts. During the 2017-18 school year, the Woodland Joint Unified School District made an allocative commitment to certain online vendors, including Amazon, which resulted in a sales hit to Davis educational supply store Teach Your Children, Inc.

Before it closed in November 2018, Teach Your Children, Inc. sold educational games and toys, as well as teaching supplies. Teach Your Children, Inc. owner Loren Skinner claimed that during the store’s 17 years of operation, parents and teachers supported Teach Your Children, while schools did not.

This was especially apparent to Skinner in 2017, when two Woodland teachers who had been patrons of the store informed Skinner that the district had given every Woodland teacher $1,000 to spend in their classroom exclusively through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ikea or Lakeshore Learning. The teachers explained that because of this, they were choosing not to shop at Teach Your Children, Inc.

According to Skinner, Teach Your Children, Inc. would have been dramatically affected if the district had included his store as a vendor in the deal.

“That would have made my whole life,” Skinner said. “But instead, a hundred dollars or so [that] the teachers were spending every year, they didn’t have to.”

Lori Williams, the educational services administrative assistant, confirmed that this allocative decision of which the teachers spoke did in fact happen; however, she stressed the fact that it was a one-time allocation during the 2017-18 school year.

“That was something that was offered to teachers to help them with classrooms, and that was just for that school year,” Williams said.

Elodia Ortega-Lampkin, the associative superintendent of educational services, provided a written statement regarding the situation.

“The funds were to be used for additional supplemental materials to support instruction in Math, English Language Arts, Science, Visual and Performing Arts, Interventions, and/or  enrichment of classroom environment,” Ortega-Lampkin said via email.

These materials are the same type offered by Teach Your Children, Inc.. Though the decision was only a one-time deal, Skinner saw the district’s action as an aid to Amazon in stamping out competitors.

“In one fell swoop, the Woodland District took all of my customers away and handed them on a silver platter to Amazon,” Skinner said. “They left me out in the cold, and that was the final blow.”

Skinner is still realistic about the challenges small independent businesses face.

“Would Amazon have gotten me anyway?” Skinner said. “Probably. But [the district] helped.”

Neither district official addressed why the district chose the particular vendors they did; however, Teach Your Children, Inc.’s exclusion may have gone back to previous negative experiences between the district and store, including one conflict over Skinner attempting to sell summer workbooks through the schools.

As for the 2017-18 decision, some schools did not experience a dramatic change in purchasing practices. Scott Clary, the principal of Woodland Prairie Elementary, said he did not receive a directive from the district regarding where to purchase supplies. Woodland Prairie Elementary frequently buys from Amazon through an online purchase order with the district, but Clary spoke of flexibility based on cost and convenience.

“We have public money, so we have a responsibility to get the best price,” Clary said. “Sometimes that’s Amazon, and sometimes that’s someplace local.”

According to one firm’s findings and due to dynamic pricing used in contracts, Amazon business in general can cost about 10 to 12 percent more than local retailers.

Currently, there is now no other local educational supply store — Teach Your Children, Inc. had been the only one in Yolo County.

“It’s tough,” Skinner said. “Everything’s kind of against you with a small business.”

Written by: Anne Fey — city@theaggie.org


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