Posts tagged: Education Networks of America
Only 30 of the more than 200 Idaho high schools and junior highs set to get state-funded WiFi service under a statewide contract are up and running with the service, Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News reports, but the contractor, Education Networks of America, says the project is on schedule to reach completion by March. Lawmakers this year will have to decide whether to continue to fund the project, for which state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna signed a five- to 15-year contract based only on this year’s funding. You can read Richert’s full report here.
Idaho Education News has a report this afternoon noting that even after the downward adjustment in the price tag for the controversial statewide high school WiFi contract (see my story here), the cost is still higher than the low bid submitted by a different firm, Tek-Hut Inc. of Twin Falls; you can read their full report here. Tek-Hut bid $1.65 million a year for the contract; Education Networks of America’s successful bid was $2.11 million a year, which now, due to an agreement to charge only for schools ENA actually connects, will drop next year to about $1.89 million. Another bid, from ID Consulting, which unlike Tek-Hut didn’t make the short list of three finalists for the contract, came in at $1.86 million a year.
Scott Sherman, a retired purchasing agent from Idaho Falls, has been raising questions for weeks about Idaho’s controversial high school WiFi contract with Education Networks of America; last Friday, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna replied to several questions Sherman had emailed him, including one about the fixed-price nature of the contract. In the Aug. 27 email, Luna defended that approach, writing, “The RFP was written intentionally with a fixed bid price component for two reasons: 1) to meet the language set forth in Senate Bill 1200 passed by the Idaho Legislature, and 2) to ensure the vendor assumed the risk involved, not the state.”
Sherman disputed that, saying, “It was totally inappropriate for a fixed-price contract, because they didn’t know how many users there were going to be.” Rather than shifting the risk to the vendor, he said, the approach shifted the risk to the state, by saying it would pay full-fare regardless of participation. That, in turn, gave vendors an incentive to up their price to protect themselves against the uncertainty. “They just about ate the whole budget up to protect themselves,” he said.
When Luna sent his Aug. 27 response to Sherman, the superintendent already knew that ENA had made a unilateral concession in an Aug. 6 letter, agreeing to bill the state only for actual work done at Idaho schools, not for the full contract amount, but he didn’t mention that; the state accepted the offer in an Aug. 22 letter. His spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath, said in an email today that the contract has not changed. “The original contract remains in the place,” she wrote. “These letters clarify the billing process and additional questions that were raised in initial meetings with ENA.”
Sherman, who has long been retired but was a purchasing agent with the atomic energy division of Philips Petroleum when the company was the main contractor at the Idaho National Laboratory, said, “In my mind what they’ve done is totally changed the terms of the contract. It’s gone from a fixed price – which given the kinds of things they were asking the potential suppliers to do was ridiculous – to a cost-plus contract.” He said, “That entirely changes how the others would have responded.” Nine companies bid on the contract; ENA was among three finalists, along with two Idaho companies. “I would think that the other suppliers or bidders would have every right to come back and say, people, what have you got?” he said. “You’ve just given these people a million bucks under totally different circumstances.”
Under pressure from state lawmakers, Idaho’s State Department of Education and Education Networks of America have agreed to a change in their statewide high school WiFi deal: ENA will be paid only for the schools it actually connects, rather than a flat fee for all eligible schools whether they participate or not. hat could lower the price for the contract’s first year from $2.11 million to $1.89 million, but key lawmakers say they still have questions about the deal.
“To me, it made no sense being charged the same whether one school signed up or every school signed up,” said Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene. But, he said, “The concessions didn’t necessarily satisfy all my concerns. Whether the concessions they’ve made will be palatable enough for the Legislature to appropriate funds again is the real issue.”
State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna signed the five- to 15-year contract with Nashville, Tenn.-based ENA in July, based on a one-time appropriation from the Legislature of $2.25 million for the upcoming school year. But the contract runs for five years, with options to renew for up to 15 years. It includes a clause that if lawmakers don’t budget money in future years, the contract will end. But it also says the contractor – ENA – owns all the equipment it installs, including miles of cabling to be installed in every Idaho high school to provide wireless networks, and if the contract ends, it must remove everything it’s installed.
Goedde said the cabling issue is another one that concerns him. “I have no problem with them pulling out devices,” he said. “Devices age quickly, and what they install today, in two years will probably be outdated. But I do have an issue with the cable.” An insurance agent, Goedde said, “Any time anybody installs something in a building, it becomes a part of the building.” ENA offered only a partial concession on the cabling, saying it would renounce its ownership rights after the first full five-year term; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Here’s a link to the full scoring documents for the 10 bids submitted for the state’s controversial high school WiFi contract, which went to Education Networks of America. The contract, at $2.11 million a year for five years with options to extend for up to 15 years, could cost the state $33.3 million if it runs the full 15 years. These documents were obtained from the State Department of Education under the Idaho Public Records Law.
While cost proposals were scored through a formula (see the post below), in the other two equally weighted categories, company overview/experience and technology, scores of zero, 1, 5 or 10 were assigned for an array of items, from financial statements to “corporate culture” to wireless bandwidth to having a Boise office.
ENA, which won the contract despite having four others submit lower-cost bids, scored the most 10’s, with 15 of its 28 scores coming in as 10’s, far more than anyone else’s. Ednetics got six 10’s; Tek-Hut got four on its lower-cost bid No. 1, and three on its bid No. 2. In the scoring documents, a “10” was defined for many of the 28 subcategories as: “Offeror exceeds requirements and expectations. Demonstrates lengthy experience on successful large or complex projects.” You can read the full 34-page scoring form here, that eight members of an evaluation committee used to assign the scores. (A ninth member, David McCauley, didn't participate due to illness.)
For technology subcategories, a “5” was defined as, “Evaluators are generally confident that offeror has adequately shown its willingness to produce satisfactory results,” while a “10” was defined as, “Offeror exceeds requirements and expectations. Demonstrates willingness and provides evidence of its commitment.”
In all the subcategories, a zero was for failing to respond; a 1 was for “marginal” or “minimal” compliance with that item.
I am still sorting through the documents I received from the State Department of Education on the scoring of the nine bidders on the state’s multi-year, multimillion-dollar high school WiFi contract, but here’s a link to the overall scores for each of the 10 bids in the three equally weighted areas, cost, company overview/experience, and technology; and here’s a link to the breakdown on the cost scoring. If the cost scoring seems a little obscure, here’s why: Points were designated based on a formula. That’s why the highest bid, for more than $40 million over five years from Carousel, got a score of 1,915 out of the possible 2,500 points, or 76 percent; while the lowest bid of $8.3 million over five years, from Tek-Hut Inc. of Twin Falls, got a score of 2,381, which is 95 percent of the available points. (Tek-Hut submitted two bids; that’s why there are 10 bids from the nine companies.) The second-most expensive bid, from Compu-Net at $30 million over five years, got a 2,067 cost score, or 83 percent.
Here’s the formula:
1-(5-year Individual Bid/5-Year Total of All Bids) x 2,500 possible points = Total Score for Costs
Shawn Swanby built his high-tech company from the ground up, starting in his living room in 1997 back when he was a University of Idaho student. Now he runs a Post Falls-based firm that provides technology services to schools across the Northwest, from the Coeur d’Alene School District to Seattle Public Schools. But he couldn’t win a statewide contract in Idaho to provide wireless networks in Idaho high schools; nor could a Twin Falls, Idaho education technology firm that already has worked with 71 of Idaho’s 113 school districts.
Instead, the 5- to 15-year, multimillion-dollar contract went to a politically connected Nashville, Tenn. firm. Both Idaho firms – who were the two runners-up among nine bidders for the contract - say the state’s taxpayers will pay much more because of the way the deal’s been structured, than they would if school districts had come to companies like them, as they’ve done in the past. The state maintains it’s the most cost-effective way to get wireless to all high schools, but a nationally known expert calls the plan “ridiculous” and “a bad deal.” In today’s Spokesman-Review, I have three stories about the wireless contract: The story about the two Idaho firms here, one of which says it bid half a million dollars a year less than the chosen bidder; a report on the state’s process for reviewing the bids here, in which review committee members say it was fair and professionally handled; and the expert’s critique here.
I am on vacation for the next week, and the State Department of Education still hasn’t fulfilled my July 25 and 26 public records requests for the complete proposals from the three finalists, the scoring awarded to all three including breakdowns, and the costs proposed by each of the three. They haven’t even released the cost proposal from the winning bidder, ENA. The Idaho Public Records Law requires the department to release these public documents, so I expect to get them in the coming week; I’ll write about them when I return.
203 of 340 eligible schools have signed up to participate in the state's new statewide high school WiFi contract, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna announced this morning; schools had until midnight last night to decide whether or not to opt in for the service. That's 60 percent of the eligible schools, which include all high schools, junior highs or middle schools in the state that serve students in grades 9 through 12. (An earlier version of this post left out the 21 charter schools participating.)
With an annual cost of $2,111,655 and 203 schools participating, the state's cost per school next year will be $10,402.
Luna said the participation involves more than 80 percent of Idaho's school districts and charter schools; Idaho has 113 school districts and 26 charter schools. “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,” he said. “It is clear schools are eager for this connectivity so they can provide teachers with the tools and resources necessary to meet the needs of every student.”
Luna signed the sole-source, statewide contract last week with Education Networks of America; he relied on a one-time appropriation for next year for $2.25 million to fund it. If the Legislature doesn't come up with funding in future years, the contract would be canceled, and ENA would be required to remove all the equipment it had installed in the schools. It calls for ENA to be paid $2.11 million a year for the next five years, with options to renew and raise the price by up to 5 percent for two additional five-year periods; if it runs the full 15 years, the contract could cost the state $33.3 million. Click below for Luna's full announcement; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
The Coeur d’Alene Press reports today that the Coeur d’Alene School District, one of the largest in the state, has decided against opting in to the statewide WiFi contract signed last week by state schools Superintendent Tom Luna and Education Networks of America. Wendell Wardell, the district’s chief operating officer, told the Press the district's board next week will instead be considering awarding a $278,000 wireless bid to a local company, Ednetics of Post Falls. “It’s more robust than what the state’s got,” Wardell told the newspaper. “It’s got bigger antennas, more capacity.” Plus, he said, “We want our service to be based locally.” Also, Wardell said the district prefers to own its wireless network and equipment; under the state contract, all equipment will be owned by the vendor, and will be removed if the contract ends. You can read the paper’s full report here from reporter Maureen Dolan.
I've since followed up on this and written my own story; you can read it here. Coeur d'Alene's deal with Ednetics, which is up for final school board approval on Monday, will provide wireless service district-wide, to all 17 schools including the three high schools, plus the district office, maintenance center and more. The cost will be one-time, and Ednetics will support the products. That local support was key for the district, Wardell said.
School districts have until midnight Thursday to decide whether to opt in to the statewide contract. “We’ve got a better system,” Wardell said. “We’ve got a better mousetrap, and we’re pretty excited about it.”
Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on Gov. Butch Otter expressing concerns today about state schools chief Tom Luna signing a multi-year contract for high school WiFi networks based on a one-time appropriation. The $2.25 million appropriation for the wireless networks was part of $34.4 million that the Legislature specifically designated as “one-time” only within the school budget for the coming year, in an effort to accommodate request both from Otter and Luna to set aside $33.9 million to cover recommendations that might arise from a 31-member education stakeholders task force.
But the task force hasn’t made any recommendations yet, and isn’t scheduled to until late summer at the earliest. Its proposals will go to Otter in the fall for consideration for next year’s budget. So the state Legislature specifically designated that amount within the school budget for the coming year for one-time only projects. That way, it’s zeroed out at the end of the fiscal year, and the governor and lawmakers will have the opportunity to propose different uses for it the following year when the stakeholders task force recommendations are in.
In addition to the $2.25 million for high school wireless networks, the designated one-time funds in the public school budget include $21 million for one-time teacher performance-pay bonuses; $3 million for technology pilot projects; $8 million for school district classroom technology needs; and $150,000 for a web portal of online classes available to Idaho students. The total: $34.4 million. It is the only money in the $1.3 billion school budget that’s designated as one-time only.
Gov. Butch Otter issued a statement today on the controversial, 5- to 15-year high school WiFi contract signed last week by state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, saying, “It’s not necessarily how I would have done it.” If the contract were to run its full 15 years, it will cost the state $33.3 million. Here is Otter’s full statement:
“I have been and will continue to be supportive of technology in the classroom. I understand and I agree with the concerns people have expressed over the contract, particularly the character of the money being utilized (one-time funds relative to the on-going obligation). The contract is signed and issues specific to it should be taken up with the Superintendent and the State Department of Education. It’s not necessarily how I would have done it. Going forward I intend to work with Superintendent Luna and the Legislature as we continue to look at ways to improve education in Idaho.”
The State Department of Education has posted the contract it signed with Education Networks of America online here; it’s 410 pages. The first two pages are the notice and acceptance of bid. The next 101 pages are the RFP, which already had been posted online earlier. The rest is ENA’s proposal, which includes lots and lots of information about the work it did on the Idaho Education Network, its staffers, and this work schedule: Deployment planning, Aug. 5-9; site surveys, Aug. 12-24; pilot test, Sept. 23-Oct. 7; and site implemention, Oct. 18-March 14, with completion March 14, 2014. That’s one day before the deadline set in the RFP.
The final two pages are a July 12 letter listing clarifications to the proposal, with three items: One about the content filtering proposal, a second about statewide roaming and local authentication, and a third about installing cabling and infrastructure for access points for the new high school WiFi networks throughout the state.
Not included in the 410 pages: ENA’s cost proposal. I am still awaiting response from SDE to my requests under the Idaho Public Records Law for costs proposed by each of the three finalists for this contract; the scoring awarded to the three finalists, including breakdowns; and the complete proposals as submitted from the three.
Meanwhile, my Sunday column explores the rare clash between two branches of Idaho's state government that state Superintendent Tom Luna's decision to sign the multi-year contract has prompted; you can read it here.
In its successful bid for a multi-year, multimillion dollar Idaho WiFi contract, Education Networks of America repeatedly touted its work on the Idaho Education Network broadband project, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News, who also reports that the bid makes several less-than-subtle references to the Nashville, Tenn.-based company’s connections in Idaho political circles. You can read Richert’s full report here.
The Idaho Statesman reports today that Tek-Hut Inc., the Twin Falls school wireless networking company that was one of three finalists for the 5- to 15-year WiFi contract for Idaho high schools awarded yesterday to a Nashville firm, undercut the winning bid from Education Networks of America by 24 percent. Part-owner Nate Bondelid told the Statesman his company bid $1.6 million a year; ENA’s winning bid was $2.1 million a year.
“ENA has a very strong relationship with the state of Idaho,” Bondelid said. It’s difficult, he said, to “play ball with people who are connected politically.” You can read the Statesman’s full report here from reporter Bill Roberts.
Meanwhile, the president and CEO of the Post Falls company that was the third finalist, Ednetics chief Shawn Swanby, told Eye on Boise, “We’re disappointed by the decision that the state Department of Education made to award it to an out-of-state company.” His firm provides technology services to schools across the Northwest; headquartered in Post Falls, it also has locations in Bellevue, Wash., Corvallis, Ore. and Boise. “We feel that we provided a very strong option, a very strong Idaho option,” Swanby said. “We’re good at what we do.”
Idaho officials concede the five-year, $2.1 million annual contract the state Department of Education signed Wednesday with a Tennessee company to install Wi-Fi service in public high schools may cost more per-school than deals districts negotiate on their own, the AP reports, but they insist that simple numbers don't tell the whole story. For instance, the Coeur d'Alene School District was planning to spend $18,000 annually from local tax collections to hire a company to install and manage three high schools' wireless service, or about $5,666 per school, a spokeswoman said Thursday.
Under Idaho's pact with Nashville-based Education Networks of America, by comparison, the per-school cost could run nearly four times that amount, or nearly $23,000, on average, based on 93 high schools state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said have so far signed up. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
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.
Idaho State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said today that there are several reasons the department decided to set up its long-term WiFi contract for Idaho high schools with the vendors keeping ownership of all the equipment they install, meaning if the contract ends, they pull it out of the schools. “It’s a managed service,” she said. “We want more than just the equipment. We would like a service provided to school districts so that there is maintenance, filtering. Second is cost – when you begin to buy infrastructure, the cost is going to go up into the tens of millions.” Third, she said, if the state or the schools owned their own wireless infrastructure, “We would be responsible for updating that infrastructure. Because technology changes so quickly, it’s much more practical to put the onus on the vendor to update that technology.”
The RFP for the wireless contract requires the vendor to update the equipment on a rotating basis, at least once every five years.
The big wireless contract awarded to Education Networks of America this afternoon – to provide WiFi in every Idaho high school at a cost to the state of up to $35.5 million over the next 15 years – is a “standard practice” approach, the State Department of Education said in its news release announcing the award. But the head of the state’s Division of Purchasing says otherwise.
Melissa McGrath, SDE spokeswoman, said the multi-year contract idea is “something that we began under Students Come First. The idea was to connect every high school to wireless, and we had a contract for it.” That was cancelled after voters rejected the Students Come First reform laws last November. But now, she said, “The Legislature decided … to move forward with it. So we have been directed to move forward with wireless technology for every public high school. The only way to do that for $2.25 million is through a statewide contract. But there is a non-appropriation clause, so we can discuss this every year going forward.”
The Legislature actually only authorized $2.25 million for wireless infrastructure in the next year; it didn’t authorize a multi-year contract. But McGrath said a “non-appropriation clause” saying the contract would be canceled if the Legislature didn’t appropriate funds in future years takes care of that. “That’s pretty standard,” she said. “State agencies sign multi-year contracts with non-appropriation clauses all the time.”
Bill Burns, administrator of the state Division of Purchasing in the Department of Administration, 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.”
All contracts issued through the Division of Purchasing do include a standard exit clause for if the state does not appropriate sufficient funds. If that happens, Burns said, “The contract’s null and void, because we’re a balanced budget state.”
He noted that all state elected officials – including state Schools Superintendent Tom Luna and his department – are exempt from Division of Purchasing contracting rules and the division’s review process, though they can request help. The only reason the division handled the giant Students Come First laptop computer contract was because the “Students Come First” laws specifically required it to do so.
Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna has awarded a multimillion-dollar wireless contract to Education Networks of America, choosing the Nashville, Tenn. firm to provide WiFi in every Idaho high school for up to the next 15 years; the contract could cost the state up to $33.3 million over that time. “Wireless internet access is a critical component of the 21st century classroom so teachers can integrate the technology they need in the classroom,” Luna said in a statement; you can read his full statement here.
Luna said ENA's bid “came in under budget at $2,111,655 per year.” The initial term of the contract is five years; the state would pay $10.56 million over that time. If both five-year extensions are given, and both price increases of up to 5 percent for the second and third five-year periods, the state's total cost over the 15 years would be $33,284,962.
I’ve had lots of readers asking me if there are any ties between Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna and the companies bidding on the multimillion-dollar WiFi contract for Idaho high schools, which could run up to 15 years and cost the state up to $35.5 million.
Among the three finalists – Tek-Hut Inc., Education Networks of America, and Ednetics Inc., all of which were brought in for interviews - only ENA has ties to Luna that I could find. The company, based in Nashville, Tenn., 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. Lough’s final position with the state was communications director for the Idaho Education Network, the service that’s providing broadband connections to every Idaho high school. Lough, a former Idaho Republican Party executive director, also personally contributed to Luna’s campaigns, but only small amounts, $200 in 2006 and a $115 in-kind donation in 2010.
ENA has an ongoing contract with the state to operate the IEN, to the tune of $8 million a year.The new WiFi contractor would work closely with the IEN to take its broadband feed and translate it into campus-wide WiFi and ethernet connections reaching into all instructional and administrative areas in Idaho high schools.
Among the other two finalist firms, Tek-Hut Inc. is a Twin Falls-based company founded in 2001 by Dallas Gray and Nate Bondelid; it employs more than 20 people and provides services across the nation, primarily to K-12 school districts. Ednetics is a Post Falls-based company founded by Shawn Swanby in his living room in 1997 when he was a University of Idaho student; it now has 60 employees in three locations and develops and installs networks and other infrastructure in school districts and universities throughout the Northwest.
I could find no record of Tek-Hut Inc. or Ednetics, or the principals of either firm, contributing to any of Luna’s campaigns.