BOISE – Just over half of eligible schools have decided to sign up for Idaho’s controversial new statewide high school WiFi contract, putting the state’s cost for the coming year at $10,402 per school.
State schools Superintendent Tom Luna announced this morning that 203 of 340 eligible schools opted to participate in the service; schools had until midnight last night to decide whether or not to opt in. That’s 60 percent of the 340 eligible schools, which include all high schools, junior highs or middle schools in the state that serve students in grades 9 through 12.
With an annual cost of $2,111,655 in payments to Education Networks of America and 203 schools participating, the state’s cost per participating school for the next year will be $10,402; the service is scheduled to be installed by March of 2014.
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.”
In North Idaho, both the Coeur d’Alene and Lakeland school districts opted not to participate in the contract, and have their own WiFi plans. Districts signing on included Boundary County, for two schools; Kellogg, for one; St. Maries, for two; and both West Bonner and Lake Pend d’Oreille, for five schools between the two. Post Falls signed up for two schools, as did Moscow.
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.
The contract calls for Nashville, Tenn.-based 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.
Wendell Wardell, Coeur d’Alene School District chief operating officer, said, “We just don’t need that. We don’t need to have a vendor own the equipment, when we would rather own the equipment. We don’t need to have something change and then the vendor comes back and gets the equipment. We just kind of want to go on and do our thing and do some teaching and learning.”