Posts tagged: Education Networks of America
Idaho schools Superintendent Tom Luna still plans to go ahead with awarding a multi-year, multimillion-dollar contract for high school WiFi today, according to his spokeswoman, Melissa McGrath. “I hope it’s today – we’re just finalizing it, but hopefully within the next couple of hours,” McGrath said just before 2 p.m. Boise time.
She said the contract, with an initial term of five years and two options to extend up to 15 years, will be at a fixed price per year, regardless of how many Idaho high schools participate. “As of yesterday, 44 districts have opted in,” McGrath said. “We don’t know, to be honest, how many are going to opt in the first year. … They ultimately have the choice at the local level.” The pricing won’t change based on the number of schools, she said. “It will be per year. We have to be prepared to fund 340 high schools or 50 high schools.”
If only 50 schools sign on, for the first year, the state would be paying $45,000 per school for WiFi, if the contract comes in at the budgeted amount for next year of $2.25 million. If 340 participated, the state would pay $6,429 per school. If the contract runs for the full 15 years, and if the contractor is allowed the two 5 percent price increases at five and 10 years specified in the RFP, the contract would cost the state $35.5 million over the 15 years.
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, says Idaho needs to be taking stock of what it already has as far as technology in its schools, in order to sensibly plan for additions. “A majority of legislators agree that we need our public K-12 schools and all of our schools to keep up with technology,” said Keough, a 9th term senator and vice-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. “I think that we need to be prudent in properly planning that buildout, however.” Her comments came after she learned yesterday that the State Department of Education is planning to award a 15-year contract for WiFi service in Idaho’s high schools – but the state doesn’t know how many schools already have it.
“I have advocated in the past two years that we need to be mapping what it is we have and making sure that we have a systematic plan for our buildout,” Keough said, “and I thought we were headed down that path, but it doesn’t sound as though we’re there yet.”
She added, “I’m concerned about going ahead with something that isn’t authorized by the Legislature budget-wise. There’s no money past next year. And it might be disruptive if we do not fund it, and the equipment may get pulled out, and that’s disruptive to the district.”
Some lawmakers are questioning why a statewide contract would even be needed to install WiFi at Idaho high schools, rather than just giving the money to local school districts and letting them hire local providers to put in their wireless systems, which the districts then would own. “It puts the state in the position of competing with local service providers,” said Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “Maybe that’s just my philosophical difference, but I’m not sure that’s the role the state should play. What’s good for Castleford may not be what’s best for Blaine school district, or vice versa.”
House Appropriations Chairwoman Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said, “That could mean that Filer goes out and gets Project Mutual, that could mean that Rupert goes out and gets somebody.That money could have been put out. I am just really surprised, and it troubles me, because that $2.25 million is not enough money to make this type of an assumption on. It’s not a fortune.” She added, “If one of these people wants to contract with the state, it would appear to me that somewhere or other the state would own the equipment – after all, you don’t jerk equipment out of school districts, No. 1, and No. 2, they would certainly have to go year-by-year on funding. Everything else runs with the yearly budget.”
State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said, “This is the most cost-efficient way to pursue these types of contracts. There is always a clause in the contract to ensure future years are subject to funding from the Legislature.”
Cameron said there were several messages from Idaho voters’ rejection of the “Students Come First” school reform laws, which included a giant statewide contract to provide laptop computers to every Idaho high school student. “I think one of them was that they didn’t want this top-down, all-inclusive approach from the state department, who appears to know best or think they know best,” he said. “The Legislature agreed this session that it should be locally driven decisions on technology, who the vendors are, etc.”
Here are a few more tidbits about the 15-year wireless contract that state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna is scheduled to award today:
The RFP calls for a fixed price for the first five years, then allows for up to a 5 percent increase for the next five years, and another 5 percent increase for the final five years. If all the increases are taken and the first five years stay fixed at the $2.25 million amount, the cost to the state over the full 15 years would be $35.47 million.
The Scope of Work for the project includes providing Idaho’s high schools with “a complete and fully managed wireless service,” including content filtering, help desk support, training, project management and “customer relations management.” It would use existing broadband connections to the schools from the Idaho Education Network, and would involve any Idaho high school, junior high or middle school that serves students in grades 9-12, if the school opts in to the project.
The RFP calls for the work to begin next Monday – July 29. The WiFi service would be fully deployed in all Idaho schools by March 15, 2014. Periodic upgrades to the most current standards would be required on a rotational basis, once every 60 months or sooner.
The RFP contains some lofty aspirations for the results of the contract. Among them: “The Project will support educating more students at a higher level by providing electronic network connectivity throughout the entire school building rather than only in a wired classroom. No matter where a child lives in Idaho, they will have access to the best educational opportunities, including the highest quality instruction and highly effective teachers. Every student will learn in a 21st Century classroom not limited by walls, bell schedules, school calendars, or geography. When they graduate from high school, they will be prepared to go on to post-secondary education or the workforce, without the need for remediation.”
Idaho state schools chief Tom Luna is about to sign a 15-year, multimillion-dollar sole-source contract for a private firm to set up WiFi networks in every high school in the state – even though the Legislature never approved the move, and legislative leaders who learned of it from a reporter Tuesday were shocked. Luna is scheduled to award the contract Wednesday; the three finalists include Education Networks of America, a firm that was awarded a contract, later canceled, under the voter-rejected Students Come First laws last year to do the very same thing. ENA was a subcontractor to Hewlett-Packard, which would have provided laptop computers to every Idaho high school student.
“It was part of a Senate bill that we should do a statewide contract,” said Melissa McGrath, Luna’s spokeswoman. But the only bill she cited was SB 1200, the public school budget. It allocated $2.25 million to set up wireless infrastructure in Idaho high schools next year, and said nothing about a long-term contract. “We did not agree and probably would not have agreed to a multi-year contract during last session, particularly given the financial straits that we believed we were under,” said Idaho Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “This shows in my opinion a little bit of a lack of judgment.”
He called the suggestion that SB 1200 authorized the contract “certainly a stretch, and perhaps borderline on a lack of honesty, because there was no provision in SB 1200 that addressed it. … There’s no germane committee legislation that addressed it.” Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, the House Appropriations chairwoman, said, “My word – how can they? That doesn’t sound like the budget I set every year, which dies, positively dies out of money on the 30th of June.” They and other legislative leaders and JFAC members said they thought the appropriation was just for “seed money” to help some districts get WiFi up and running in their high schools next year.
To make matters worse, the State Department of Education’s request for proposals for the big contract specifies that the successful vendor will own all the equipment it installs in roughly 340 Idaho high schools. And if the contract is canceled for any reason – including because the Legislature doesn’t ante up in future years – it’d be required to “de-install” all that equipment, ripping the wireless networks back out of the schools. Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said, “If the contract says the vendor owns the equipment, then where are what we spent our $2.25 million dollars for?” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.