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Posts tagged: Students Come First

Luna announces tech grants to 15 schools, says statewide effort still needed on school tech

Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna today announced the 15 schools throughout the state that will receive a share of $3 million in technology grants for pilot projects next year, but noted that 99 schools applied for the grants, and if they’d all gotten what they sought, the total would have been more than $26 million; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.  “I think the answer has to be a statewide effort, and I think you have to tap into the economy of scale in order to make this available for all,” Luna said. “I think what we’ve demonstrated through the pilots is that there is a demand for one-to-one environments … in the classroom.”

Many, but not all, of the successful grant applicants plan to use the money to provide every student with a high-tech device, whether it’s a Chromebook, an iPad, a laptop computer or a combination of school-provided and bring-your-own devices. Luna’s signature “Students Come First” plan, which voters rejected in 2012, sought in part to provide every high school teacher and student in the state with a laptop computer.

Luna noted that the technology already has changed significantly since he made his proposal. “I still believe that there has to be a statewide solution, or we just create winners and losers,” he said. But he said that could take a variety of forms, from providing more per-student funding to school districts for technology to offering several state-level contracts that districts could access at their option to take advantage of economies of scale. “This demand is not going to go away, whether I’m here or anyone else is here,” said Luna, who is leaving office when his second term ends at the end of the year.

A roomful of excited school officials from throughout the state was at the State Department of Education offices today to receive the grant awards. They range from a high of $516,619 for South Middle School in Nampa, which will use the money to purchase computers, Apple TVs, projectors, I-Pads for every teacher, video technology for classrooms, and to open school two to three nights a week to allow parents and students at the large, largely low-income school to come in and work online with a teacher’s help; to a low of $14,825, for Meridian Technical Charter High School, to offer 25 students with difficulties associated with the autism spectrum access to brain games on iPads designed to enhance their learning.

Kathy Baker, principal of Ponderosa Elementary School in Post Falls, said her school will use its $250,000 grant to “gamefy” learning by allowing students to work individually and earn digital badges when they move up to higher levels; the gaming will revolve around the Idaho Core Standards and include reading, writing and math, with options both for those who struggle and for advanced learners. The project includes Chromebooks and accessories. “We’re just thrilled to pieces,” Baker said. “We know that we have to do something different for kids.”

Forrest M. Bird Charter School in Sandpoint is getting $317,516, and will provide a laptop computer for every student and teacher, grades 6-12, iPads for special education classes, projection presentation systems and training. Mary Jensen, education leader at the school, said, “We’re just really excited for being able to innovate in our classrooms through the use of technology.”

Cascade Junior-Senior High School will use its $38,094 grant to integrate school-provided Chromebooks with students’ bring-your-own devices to bridge the “digital divide” between its lower and higher income students. Fruitland Elementary School will expand a pilot project that used iPads in second-grade classrooms school-wide, with its $345,230 grant. Lapwai Middle-High School’s $32,986 grant will provide a high-tech projection system in every classroom to turn regular white boards into interactive learning surfaces. Mullan Trail Elementary’s $204,465 grant will install and enhance WiFi and network infrastructure, purchase Chromebooks, tablets, management systems and accessories, to turn the elementary school into a “Google School,” where allow students and teachers can use apps to interact as they work on documents. Click below for a full list of the grant recipients.

Lanza booted from Otter’s ed task force after he joins Democratic challenger’s campaign

Mike Lanza, the parent-turned-education activist who chaired the campaign that successfully overturned the “Students Come First” school reform laws, says he’s been booted from Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s education improvement task force because he’s signed on with Otter’s Democratic opponent’s campaign. The 31-member task force brought all sides in the education reform debate together and made 20 recommendations, all of which Otter endorsed; the Legislature started work on some of those this year.

Lanza, who is now communications director and education adviser to Democrat A.J. Balukoff’s gubernatorial campaign, also still heads Idaho Parents and Teachers Together, the group that grew out of the successful referendum campaign in 2012. “There are politicians and candidates now serving on the task force, and no one questions whether they should be, and I don’t question whether they should be,” Lanza said. “They all have an appropriate role. No one has ever suggested that any of the dealings of the task force have been politicized.”

Marilyn Whitney, spokeswoman for the State Board of Education, which oversees the task force, said task force head Richard Westerberg, a board member, made the call, in consultation with board Chairman Don Soltman and board Executive Director Mike Rush, none of whom were immediately available for comment. “What I do know is that if IPAT wishes to have someone they can, but that it’s problematic and could be counter-productive for that person to be Mike, given that he now represents another entity,” Whitney said. “I think the board worked very hard to keep the previous task force process from being political and politicized.” The original 31-member task force is now reforming into two new committees; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Temporary teacher contract laws get mixed reviews…

The Idaho Legislature’s K-12 Educational System Interim Committee heard sharply differing views this afternoon on how three controversial teacher contract bills have been working since lawmakers passed them on a temporary, one-year basis this year, and what should be done about them next year. The Idaho Education Association requested that two of the three, SB 1040a, allowing teachers’ pay and contract days to be reduced from one year to the next at a school district’s option, and SB 1147a, limiting all terms in master agreements (contracts between school districts and teachers' unions) to one year only, be allowed to expire. They asked for some modifications to the third bill, HB 261, which governs teacher layoffs.

By contrast, the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho School Administrators Association requested that the “sunset,” or expiration clause, be removed from all three bills, making them permanent. All re-enact some provisions from the voter-repealed “Students Come First” reform laws, which rolled back teacher contract rights.

Paul Stark, general counsel for the IEA, said SB 1040a has been “abused,” and a dozen Pocatello teachers have seen their contract days cut without the requirements of the law even being followed. “We don’t believe that that’s how we should treat teachers,” he told the lawmakers. “Frankly, with this law, the pendulum has swung way too far the other way. … We have proven through the governor’s task force and we have proven to the citizens of Idaho that the stakeholders can work together. … So our request is please, let us work on this, and we can find a better solution that fits everybody’s needs.”

But Anne Ritter, president of the Meridian School Board, asked the lawmakers to drop the sunsets from all three bills – and also re-enact another controversial Students Come First provision allowing school districts to unilaterally impose contract terms if they haven’t reached contract agreements with teachers by a mid-June deadline. She said her district, the state’s largest, still hasn’t reached an agreement with its teachers, and is facing a financial crunch that’s forced teacher layoffs and large cuts in the number of school days. “Districts have all made difficult decisions during these challenging financial times,” she told the interim committee. “We need the Legislature to revisit the contract laws to make it possible for school boards to plan appropriately and balance their budgets. … The financial condition of school districts around the state is really at risk.”

Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he’s concerned that Idaho school districts’ financial situation, and an increasing reliance on short-term supplemental tax override levies, has made it difficult to evaluate data on how well the three temporary laws are working. “I don’t think that that’s a good environment to use to set policy,” he said. Goedde suggested considering another one-year extension to allow more examination of the three laws’ effects.

Karen Echeverria, executive director of the School Boards Association, said she didn’t know how her group would view such a prospect; Penni Cyr, IEA president, said hers would be open to the idea. The joint legislative committee meets again in November, and may meet in December as well; it’s due to report back to lawmakers, who convene their session in January.

Even after downward adjustment, ENA price still higher than low bidders

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.

Retired purchasing agent: ‘They’ve totally changed the terms of the contract’

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.”

Idaho alters school WiFi deal under pressure from lawmakers

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.

Otter endorses ed stakeholders’ task force recommendations

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today endorsed the sweeping recommendations of his school reform task force, including restoring tens of millions cut from school budgets during Idaho's recession years. “It met every one of my expectations of what we could come out with,” the governor said.

Otter said he's asked his Division of Financial Management to put a price tag on the 21 proposals. “We know it’s going to be roughly $350 million bucks,” he said. “We … know we can’t do that in one year, we can’t do that in two years, or maybe three years. But what we can do is set ourselves on a course that we accomplish so much each year, and … four or five years out, we’ve accomplished the entire package.”

The recommendations include big increases in teacher pay as part of a new 'career ladder;'  advancing students to the next grade only when they've mastered the material;  changing the school funding formula; boosting school technology; raising standards for student achievement; expanding professional development and mentoring for teachers; a new tiered professional licensing structure; and more.

Otter, who spoke about the reforms in response to questions at his annual “Governor’s Address to the Business Community” speech to the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce today, said he met with legislative leaders this morning and discussed the task force recommendations, which were developed by a 31-member panel he appointed to represent all sides in the school reform debate, including both opponents and backers of Idaho’s failed “Students Come First” school reforms; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

How tech and company qualifications were scored for WiFi contract…

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.

How cost was scored in the controversial state WiFi contract…

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

Expert calls Idaho wireless pact ‘ridiculous’ and ‘a bad deal’

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.

60% of eligible schools sign up for state wireless contract

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.

CdA schools opt for local provider on wireless, won’t opt in to state contract

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.”

One-time WiFi money was part of plan to fund stakeholders proposals next year

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.

Otter on WiFi contract: ‘Not necessarily how I would have done it’

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.”

What the contract posted online does and doesn’t show…

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.

ENA touted Idaho political ties in its successful bid for WiFi contract

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.

Twin Falls firm says its bid for WiFi contract was 24% lower than ENA’s

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.”

Officials: Don’t judge wireless pact on price

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.

Luna picks Nashville firm for WiFi contract, passes over two Idaho finalists

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.

SDE addresses vendor-ownership question in WiFi contract

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.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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