Sen. Dean Cameron’s “Option 1” intent language for the public school budget – which lets school districts opt out of a statewide high school WiFi contract that state schools Supt. Tom Luna signed with Education Networks of America and get alternative funding for their own high school WiFi networks if they do – has passed JFAC on a 15-5 vote, after Sen. Dean Mortimer’s alternative proposal failed on a close 9-11 vote.
The five “no” votes on Cameron’s motion came from Sens. Mortimer, Vick, Bayer, Thayn and Nuxoll. On Mortimer’s motion, supporters included those five plus Reps. Eskridge, Youngblood, Thompson and Stevenson, but that was still short of a majority.
Cameron said the JFAC co-chairs and vice-chairs met with Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane to go over options, and simply canceling the contract through non-appropriation at this point turned out to be a risky course. “Unfortunately, you’d probably spend as much in legal costs defending that decision, based on the lack of information we have, as you would in paying for the contract, so that didn’t seem to be a wise choice,” Cameron said. “Our legal counsel impressed upon us that what we really needed to do was make a good-faith effort, gather information, and then make appropriate decisions down the road. … That’s what Option 1 attempts to do.”
He noted that under that option, the state could end up paying more next year, if some districts opt out and ask for funding, when the contractor has already been paid. If that occurs, the funding would come from the Public Education Stabilization Fund.
Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, said, “We have a contract with a provider. … We’re saying we’re allowing you to withdraw. I’m wondering how that would violate the contract, how that works out.”
Cameron noted that schools Superintendent Tom Luna has letters amending the contract from its original flat-fee, $2.25 million annual payment to a per-school payment for services rendered. “I would remind the committee this is one-time money,” Cameron said. “This is a one-year appropriation, with one-year intent language. At the end, next year we would be able to make a decision as to how to proceed – whether to continue with the contract, or whether to do something completely different. … We’ll have a better defensible position.”