Purchasing & Bids

School Photo Services

  • School photographs have been cherished mementos for generations. This annual ritual is common across all schools in the Essex Westford School District, often considered the official signal that a new school year has started. Last winter, as a newly merged district, we sought proposals from photography studios who could perform these services for our families, while providing some essential items for the District as a whole. Both local and national studios participated in our bid process. In the end, four companies submitted proposals and Lifetouch was awarded the contract based on their pricing, value to families, and services they would deliver to the District.

    An important part of the selection process was our stated commitment to evaluate the vendor prior to making a commitment for the 2019-2020 school year. That evaluation has continued for the past three months with comprehensive feedback from principals, administrative assistants, and parents. We’ve also taken a close look at data from our vendor on photo ordering, retakes, and discounts.

    Since this is the first time all of our schools have used a common vendor, and as well as our first formal evaluation of our school photo process, past data is unavailable for reference.

    We know that this school year our vendor took photos of approximately 4,500 students and staff. In turn, approximately the same number of student and staff identification badges were created and delivered, either directly to staff members, the student (grades 6-12), or the schools to be used as part of our safety protocols.

    We also know from data that our vendor is required to share with us, that nearly 3,300 total orders were placed (59% online, 40% paper forms, 1% by phone).

    As part of the value our new vendor brought to the District, in addition to the 4,500 identification badges for all our students and staff, EWSD received $12,000 in marketing funds and an additional $5,000 in credits with our vendor’s in-house print shop. The District will use these funds for banners, signage, and posters in each of our schools to promote our shared identity, vision, and values.

    From our principals’ perspective, some of the issues we experienced in the initial photo days at some of our schools - setup times and scheduling logistics - were to be expected. For all the schools in the EWSD, our change to Lifetouch marked a major departure from past routines with prior vendors.

    These sentiments were echoed by administrative assistants throughout the District. Often frontline staff has the most direct interactions between the vendor, the school, and our families. So we asked them to share their satisfaction with Lifetouch in a number of categories. Here’s what they told us:

    A data chart shows that most families are satisfied with the timeliness and communication of the service provider.

    The administrative assistant survey also shows a high number of errors, with about 40% reporting 10 or more errors with the photo/ID process. However, when asked to rate the responsiveness of Lifetouch staff, nearly 75% of the administrative assistants reported Lifetouch to be responsive to very responsive to questions in these situations.

    Solidifying the evaluation process is the information we gleaned in a survey of parents and families. This survey reached every household with children attending an EWSD school. Over a three-week timeframe, 223 responses were recorded. Approximately 92% of the respondents reported ordering photos this year. 7.2% reported not ordering photos because they were dissatisfied with the vendor and/or pricing.

    When parents/families were asked to rate their overall cost-to-value satisfaction, 55% stated they were either somewhat satisfied or very satisfied with the photos, opposed to 26% who reported they were very dissatisfied to somewhat dissatisfied. Results showed even stronger satisfaction for categories such as level of communication, ease of ordering, payment methods, and timeliness of ordering. Responses on quality of the photographs were nearly evenly split.

    Parents and families were also specifically asked to share their experience with the school photo vendor. In this section, concern around the change in vendor emerged with about 50% of respondents stating they were somewhat concerned to very concerned. These findings stand in contrast to favorable data on ease of ordering and timeliness of orders, with a strong majority of respondents reporting themselves as somewhat comfortable to very comfortable.

    In conclusion, the collective data and feedback informed the District’s decision to remain with Lifetouch for the 2019-20 school year. We anticipate that a similar vendor evaluation will be conducted before any final decision, including a possible re-bidding of the school photography services, is made for the 2020-21 school year. Our goal is to give greater public transparency on the process and results for vendors providing services in our District.