August 3, 2013 in Idaho

Review committee members say Wi-Fi selection process was fair

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Review committee

Idaho’s State Department of Education appointed an “independent review committee” to evaluate the technology and company qualifications of the nine proposals it received for its statewide high school Wi-Fi contract. The members:

• Three Idaho school district technology directors

• Two businessmen, one of whom, Jefferson Jewell of Xtreme Technologies, was a partner with ENA in the canceled Students Come First contract for laptop computers

• Four officials from the department

BOISE – Two Idaho school district technology directors who served on a committee that reviewed the bids for Idaho’s high school Wi-Fi contract with Education Networks of America said they thought the process was professionally handled and fair.

“We all agreed ENA was the best solution,” said Jerry Reininger of the Meridian School District.

He and Will Goodman, director of technology for the Mountain Home School District, said they evaluated only the technology and the company qualifications. The state’s request for proposals said the decision would be based equally on three factors: Those two, plus cost. The State Department of Education assigned scores for cost by a formula and averaged it into the committee’s scores.

Goodman, who is president of the Idaho Education Technology Association, said the nine bids the state received were all over the map, with one company bidding $40 million a year, some refusing to answer required questions and one saying it wouldn’t serve all the state’s high schools.

The three finalists “were very, very clearly above the rest,” Goodman said. Among the three, ENA wasn’t “hands-above better, they were just the best choice,” he said. “They proposed a high number of access points, which is very important to us in the schools, because if you don’t have enough access points, you have kids that aren’t online. They had the right technical background. They had a huge engineering staff they were dedicating to it.”

The three finalists were invited for interviews with the committee, but no committee members changed their already assigned scores based on the interviews.

Reininger said he sees the contract as a good deal for the state because the vendor would be responsible for upgrades, at least once every five years, and his district would get more extensive wireless service in its high schools than it has now. “This would be a true benefit to our students,” he said.

Reininger said committee members were given the bids and a rubric with which to rate them compared to the state’s request for proposals, assigning points on objective measures like whether a requirement was met or exceeded. “There was no pressure put on anybody that here’s a pre-determined vendor you should look at or anything like that,” he said. “I thought it was a very good process. I thought it was very professional.”

Goodman said, “I believe that a managed service is the best fit for Idaho. It will provide a low up-front cost while allowing the state to remove itself from the contract if funding is no longer available.”

He said he has “mixed feelings” about the structure of the deal, however. “If there’s anything I’d like to see different, it would have been a dollar buyout,” he said. “At the end of five years, for so many dollars, the state can buy the equipment, rather than ENA coming in, getting it, taking it out.

“It worries me that we could have it put in, kids get used to it, it’s really helping the educational process, and then it all gets taken out,” he said.

Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, said, “In the world we live in today, this technology changes quickly. … The contract does not include a buyout clause because this technology will likely be outdated by the end of the contract.”

Goodman said that while teaching high school history last year, he was able for the first time to have his students look up historical information on the spot on wireless devices. “They look it up, and in two minutes they’re in front of the class presenting on a subject,” he marveled. “I think getting wireless Internet into schools is a huge, huge deal, and I hope that all the controversy doesn’t keep it from getting out to kids.”

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