Idaho state schools chief Tom Luna on today defiantly issued a 5- to 15-year contract to a Nashville, Tenn. firm to run WiFi networks in Idaho high schools, dismissing criticism from lawmakers that they never authorized the multi-year contract, and passing over two home-grown Idaho companies seeking the contract. “As a state, it is our goal and our responsibility to ensure every child has equal access to the best educational opportunities, no matter where they live,” Luna declared. “To accomplish this, we have to equip every public high school with the advanced technology and tools necessary to create these opportunities.”
Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said he’s asked the legislative budget staff to explore with the Idaho Attorney General whether Luna had legal authority to issue a multi-year contract, when the Legislature authorized only one year of funds – a one-time appropriation for the next year of $2.25 million. Luna characterized that as “standard practice,” noting that the contract, like most state contracts, will include an exit clause that cancels it if the state doesn’t appropriate sufficient funds. Because the contract also calls for ENA to own all the equipment it installs in the schools, if the contract is canceled, the company would pull back out the wireless networks it had installed.
However, Idaho’s Purchasing Division administrator, Bill Burns, said his division won’t begin the process of issuing a multi-year contract until the agency in question certifies that it has the funding to cover the full cost of the contract over time. “They have to say they have funding for the value of the contract over the contract life,” Burns said. “If we don’t get that, we don’t even start the process for writing an RFP or whatever it is, an invitation to bid or whatever. That’s our absolute starting point right there.”
McGrath wouldn’t say if ENA had the lowest bid; she did say it received the highest score from an interview committee. The scoring was divided into three equal parts, for cost, technology, and company qualifications/interviews, with each counting for a third.
ENA is the only one of the three finalists with ties to Luna. The company donated $6,000 to Luna’s campaign between the 2009 and 2012, and its top Idaho employee, Garry Lough, worked for Luna at the Idaho State Department of Education before joining ENA in 2012. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said Wednesday that he wished the Purchasing Division had overseen the contracting process. “It would have been cleaner,” he said. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.