August 8, 2013 in City, Idaho

Wide price gap seen in bids for Idaho Wi-Fi contract

Kevin Richert Idaho Education News
 

The Idaho Education Department received 10 bids for its controversial high school Wi-Fi contract – four less expensive than the winning bid.

The price tag for the winning bidder, Education Networks of America, was by no means the most expensive bid for the project. But a Twin Falls company, Tek-Hut Inc., submitted two bids that beat the Nashville, Tenn.-based company on price.

Tek-Hut was the low bidder on the project, according to documents obtained by Idaho Education News on Wednesday under the state’s Public Records Act. The Education Department released the “scoring documents” used by the nine-person review committee, which voted unanimously to award the Wi-Fi contract to ENA.

The documents do not offer a detailed cost breakdown. However, they do reveal a wide gap in price, as bidders vied for the job of installing Wi-Fi service in up to 249 junior and senior high schools statewide.

The most expensive bid came in at $29.6 million for the first year – far exceeding the $2.25 million the 2013 Legislature earmarked for the project – and more than $40.5 million over five years.

ENA won the contract with a bid of $2.1 million for the first year and $10.6 million over five years.

But Tek-Hut, in the less expensive of its two bids, offered $1.6 million for the first year, 21.9 percent lower than ENA’s winning bid. In that proposal, Tek-Hut bid $8.2 million over five years – again beating ENA’s price by 21.9 percent.

Even Tek-Hut’s more expensive bid beat ENA’s price by 7.7 percent.

Another Idaho bidder could not beat ENA’s price. Post Falls-based Ednetics bid $2.3 million for the first year – more than the state appropriated for the project – and $11.6 million over five years.

Cost was one factor in the state’s contract review but not the sole factor, according to the scoring documents. Cost accounted for one-third of the overall score; technology and the company’s “overview and experience” were each worth a third. ENA, the state’s contractor on the Idaho Education Network’s high school broadband contract, outscored the nine other bidders on both technology and experience.

While ENA received unanimous backing in the review process – from a panel of four Education Department staffers, three school district IT administrators and two industry representatives – the project has been mired in controversy.

State schools superintendent Tom Luna announced the five-year contract July 24 – amid criticism from some key legislators, who said they were unaware that the state was contemplating a multiyear agreement. If the state continues to fund the project, and if the state signs two options with ENA, the contract could extend to 15 years, at a total taxpayer cost of up to $33.3 million.

Gov. Butch Otter also criticized the use of one-time money to launch what is, potentially, a multiyear project. “It’s not necessarily how I would have done it,” he said last week.

The controversy has taken on political overtones as well. ENA has been active in Idaho political circles, making campaign contributions to Luna, Otter and more than 40 sitting legislators. ENA’s point man in Idaho, Garry Lough, is a former state Republican Party official and Luna staffer.

Despite the political controversy, the offer of state-financed Wi-Fi has proven popular with school districts and charter schools; some 80 percent of districts and charters signed on by last week’s deadline. The Education Department expects about 200 schools to receive Wi-Fi through the contract.

ENA will begin site visits next week. Its deadline for hooking up schools is March 15.

Reprinted with permission of Idaho Education News, an independent, onlinewebsite focusing on K-12 education in Idaho. IdahoEdNews.org is funded by a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.


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