Posts tagged: Students Come First
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.
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.
Eleven schools around the state, including one charter school, one virtual charter school, five middle schools, three high schools and one elementary school, have been selected for the $3 million in pilot project grants for school technology that state lawmakers approved this year. State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna announced the picks – from among 81 schools that applied – in a news conference this morning at Discovery Elementary School in Meridian, one of the chosen schools.
“The demand for technology in our schools continues to grow,” Luna said. “Through these grants, we will be able to meet the needs of just some. In the future, we will take what we learn from these pilots and expand our efforts so all students – not just those who are fortunate enough to attend these schools – but every student in Idaho has equal access to the best educational opportunities.”
Voters in November rejected Luna’s “Students Come First” school reform legislation, which would have paid for a laptop computer for every high school student in the state, while shifting priorities within Idaho’s public school budget to include a new focus on online learning.
At the Meridian elementary school, a $370,501 grant will pay for a “classroom rotational model of shared devices to individualize instruction and create innovative, self-directed learners.” Kuna Middle School, with an $891,200 grant, will provide Chromebooks to each student in math class, as part of an effort to address struggles in math and writing. McCall-Donnelly High School will give every student “access to iPad technology,” in a $150,000 project designed in part by a student there, Brooke Thomas.
Sugar-Salem High School in eastern Idaho will give every student an HP 4440S notebook computer and access to a wireless network, with its $454,783 grant. Moscow Middle School will pilot interactive whiteboards, clickers, formative assessments and cloud technology as part of a $180,000 project to transform the classroom approach. Compass Public Charter School will set up three computer labs and provide three classroom sets of iPads; the Idaho Distance Education Academy will pilot digital textbooks and expand its instructional management system; Buetler Middle School in Dayton will provide every student an iPad with its $138,719 grant, along with training on “digital citizenship.”
You can read the full list of grants here. Not on the list: Funds to continue a grant-funded iPad program at Paul Elementary that was initially funded by Park City, Utah-based iSchool Campus.
Lots and lots of people spoke at the education stakeholders task force forum in Boise this evening; by my count, 37 had testified by the time the meeting ended around 9:20 p.m. Among those, 15 spoke out against the new Common Core standards. The next-most common theme was the need for increased funding for Idaho’s schools, followed by a call for more focus on early-childhood education, special education needs, increased flexibility for Idaho school districts, increased teacher pay and skepticism over merit-pay plans.
“This is not the end of the information-gathering,” task force chairman Richard Westerberg, a state Board of Education member, told the crowd at the close of the hearing. Comments still are being accepted via email, at email@example.com. Plus, Westerberg said comments from all seven public forums around the state will be transcribed and given to all members of the 31-member Task Force for Improving Education; more than a dozen of those members attended tonight’s forum.
Said Westerberg, “This has been a good evening. I appreciate your passion, appreciate your attendance.”
At tonight’s education forum at the state Capitol, there’s a big and passionate crowd, and several common themes have emerged among the first 20 to speak: Backing for more funding for Idaho’s schools; opposition to the new Common Core standards for what children should learn each year; and support for special education, improved teacher pay, more flexibility for local school districts and more focus on early-childhood education. “If Idaho today was making the same effort at funding public schools that it did in the ‘80s and the ‘90s, Idaho public schools would have $550 million more in funding than they have today,” former longtime state chief economics Mike Ferguson told the crowd. “This magnitude in funding reduction has not been without consequences.”
Former four-term state lawmaker and longtime teacher Steve Smylie said, “I think it’s pretty simple what we need to do, four things. One, understand that the problem is really infrastructure. Two, we need to get on the same team, we all want the same thing. Three, it’s going to cost money. So far, we don’t seem to be willing to pay for it. A survey from 2012 by Gallup … indicates that 65 percent of Americans would be willing to increase their tax payments to support struggling schools. We don’t seem to feel the same way here. No. 4: This isn’t some hidden mystery, we already know what will improve schools – it’s just simply a matter of doing it.”
Phoebe Smith, whose daughter joined her along with her service dog, told the session, “The first solution to education funding: Return tax levels to where they were in the ‘90s, then use that money to fund education and restore Idaho’s social safety net. … I want Idaho to stop playing games with education.”
Opponents of Common Core standards were particularly outspoken, and greeted with big cheers and applause. Richard Twight called the standards a “perverse, un-American system,” and said, “With Common Core our children are to be transformed into creatures of the central state.” Susan Frickey called Common Core “the new miracle drug,” and said, “Look hard at the intended and unintended consequences of this path, particularly the very large, very permanent federal footprint evidenced in compliance with these standards and what they would mean to our local education and state sovereignty in Idaho.”
Meanwhile, the State Department of Education has posted a list of “myths and facts” about the Common Core standards; you can read it here. Testimony is continuing.
The seventh and final public forum by the governor's education stakeholders task force is tonight in Boise, starting at 6:30 p.m. MT. You can watch live here.
An energetic crowd of 101 turned out at Tuesday’s education stakeholders task force meeting in Pocatello, reports Clark Corbin of Idaho Education News, and their concerns focused on supporting teachers, criticism of the new Idaho Common Core standards and more; you can read Corbin’s full report here. Larry Gebhardt, an adjunct faculty member at Idaho State University, called on task force members to foster a renewed culture of learning, and said teachers have not been shown the respect they deserve. “The overall tone of legislation in education policy indicates a great disrespect toward teachers and teachers in Idaho on K-12,” Gebhardt said. “There is no epidemic of bad teachers and bad faculty. Students are getting the best result from the limited resources available.”
Two members of the 31-member task force attended; it was the sixth community forum the group has held around the state in the past two weeks. The final forum is set for this Thursday at 6:30 in the Lincoln Auditorium in the state Capitol; the public is invited to offer its input on how best to improve education in Idaho. There's more info here.
More than 200 people turned out for last night’s education stakeholders task force public forum in Idaho Falls; tonight, the task force heads to Pocatello. Reporter Clark Corbin of Idaho Education News reports that the new Common Core state standards were a big topic at the Idaho Falls session, as were funding issues. Four of the 31 task force members attended the session, including state schools Superintendent Tom Luna. You can read Corbin’s full report here; tonight’s forum starts at 6:30 at Century High School in Pocatello; and Thursday, the task force will hold its final public forum of the series in Boise, starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Auditorium on the lower level of the Idaho State Capitol.
The governor’s education stakeholders task force, dubbed the Task Force for Improving Education, is continuing its community forums around the state this week, with a forum in Idaho Falls scheduled this evening, Pocatello on Tuesday, and Boise on Thursday. Tonight’s Idaho Falls forum will be at 6:30 at Tingey Auditorium at University Place; Tuesday’s at 6:30 at Century High School in Pocatello; and Thursday’s at 6:30 at the Lincoln Auditorium on the lower level of the Idaho State Capitol. The public is invited to offer comments; there’s more info here.
Five months after Idaho voters strongly rejected them, a series of laws limiting school teacher contract rights in the state is back on the books. Gov. Butch Otter has signed five controversial bills into law to revive parts of voter-rejected Proposition 1, on everything from limiting negotiated teacher contract terms to just one year to allowing school districts to cut teacher pay from one year to the next without declaring financial emergencies. Four of the five bills have emergency clauses making them effective immediately – one, the bill limiting contract terms to one year, is retroactive to Nov. 21, 2012, the day the voters’ Nov. 7 decision took effect.
“Maybe there was some partisanship in those, I fully understand that,” Otter said. “I don’t think I could’ve asked, nor did I ask the Legislature to only address those things that they were going to get total, unanimous support for. I said where you can find consensus, come forward with ‘em, and we’ll work on ‘em, and we’ll work on ‘em together.” He said, “I think we picked the low-hanging fruit, and the low-hanging fruit was those things that seemed reasonable, those things that reached a consensus and those things the Legislature passed. And I’m proud.”
Otter pointed to other measures that won broad support, some of which passed without a dissenting vote in either house. One of those revived a little-remarked provision from Proposition 1 to require all teacher negotiations to take place in public; another revived a requirement for master labor agreements to be posted on school districts’ websites. A third, HB 261, forbids teacher layoffs from being done solely by seniority; that’s a change from Proposition 1’s provision that seniority not be considered at all, and the bill passed unanimously.
But the five bills, like the 2011 “Students Come First” school reform laws that Idaho voters repealed through three historic referenda in November, all passed with little or no Democratic support and with bipartisan opposition in both houses. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Former Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, is blasting Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, saying he displayed “wanton disregard for the public will” in helping reenact some of the anti-union measures in the voter-rejected “Students Come First,” the Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey reports. Corder, in an op-ed piece, even calls on Goedde to return the state flag given to him by the Senate in recognition for his service in the 2011 session, when “Students Come First” was enacted. You can read Popkey’s full post here.
Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News also has a post on Corder’s piece, which Richert reports is on Facebook; you can read Richert’s full post here.
Twenty-four people testified to the Task Force for Improving Education tonight in Coeur d’Alene, as the governor’s education stakeholder task force held its fourth public forum and its best-attended one yet. “It’s good to see a packed house,” said Richard Westerberg, task force chairman and state Board of Education member. Seven of the 31 task force members attended.
By my count, among the 24 who testified over the course of the two-hour forum at North Idaho College, there were some overriding themes: Seven pleaded for more state funding and less reliance on local property tax override levies; six called for less emphasis on test scores and standardized testing in Idaho’s schools (said one grandmother of four, “We’re driving our kids crazy”); and five called for increased teacher pay.
Other popular ideas: Checking into the quality of online course offerings to Idaho students; including the arts and humanities along with the STEM topics, science, technology, engineering and math; and support and enthusiasm for the new Idaho Common Core standards for what student should learn at each grade level (one person spoke specifically against those, saying he didn’t want to see “national education”).
There was some anger, particularly over the voter-rejected “Students Come First” laws and concerns that they were enacted without input from parents and teachers. There was also lots of gratitude – to the task force for listening this time. “This doesn’t have to be the end of the dialogue,” Westerberg said at the close of the forum. He noted that online comments can be submitted to the task force at firstname.lastname@example.org. “Thank you very much for a great showing and some really good input,” Westerberg told the crowd of close to 100.
The task force’s next public forums are set for April 22 in Idaho Falls, April 23 in Pocatello, and April 25 in Boise; there’s more info here.
The governor's education stakeholders task force heard concerns about funding, teacher salaries and standardized testing at its public forum in Lewiston last night, the Lewiston Tribune reports; click below for a full report. The newspaper reports that three of the 31 task force members attended the forum, though another report from Idaho EdNews says four task force members attended; tonight, the task force has a forum in Coeur d'Alene, at 6:30 p.m. in the North Idaho College student union building, Lake Coeur d'Alene Room.
Only two of the 31 education stakeholders task force members attended the Thursday night public forum in Twin Falls, reports Idaho Education News. A crowd of just under 50 turned out, but only a handful testified; the meeting, scheduled to run for more than two hours, broke up after barely an hour. You can read a full report here from Idaho EdNews’ Kevin Richert; it was a smaller turnout than the first forum in Nampa the night before, where nine task force members attended and 19 people testified.
The sessions were the first of seven scheduled statewide this month; tonight, there’s one in Lewiston, and tomorrow night, Coeur d’Alene. Also scheduled are forums in Idaho Falls, Pocatello and Boise. The governor and the state Board of Education organized the task force to identify a path forward after voters in November soundly rejected the “Students Come First” school reform laws enacted in 2011.
Mike Lanza, co-founder of the parents and teachers group that campaigned against the rejected laws, offers this commentary here on the forums and encourages people to attend and have their say.