Editorial: Idaho Wi-Fi deal a mess despite fixes; do it over
Idaho lawmakers are pressuring state schools superintendent Tom Luna to rework the terms of a Wi-Fi contract he stubbornly authorized in July, but the larger questions of why this deal was done remain unanswered.
Lawmakers were stunned when they learned that Luna was about to commit the state to a multiyear contract with renewal options for up to 15 years, at a potential price tag of $33 million.
Many legislators didn’t know about the impending deal until contacted by a Spokesman-Review reporter. About the best that can be said of this mess is that public officials may be reluctant to procure services this way again.
The state Education Department announced Friday that it had reached some compromises with Education Networks of America, a Nashville, Tenn.-based company that won the contract to provide Wi-Fi to high schools. Initially, ENA was to be paid a set amount, regardless of how many high schools signed up. Now, the amount of service supplied will determine the price, which is a logical approach. This could drop the cost from $2.11 million to $1.89 million in the first year. Legislators say other changes in the contract could be coming.
But these alterations raise a question: If the terms of the contract are changing, shouldn’t the bidding begin anew? Nine companies submitted bids under the old terms. Only ENA has a shot at fulfilling the new ones.
The state Legislature still has a chance to weigh in, because it can refuse to fund the altered contract. If that happens, the deal will come to an end.
This mess could’ve been headed off if Luna had delayed signing the contract when he got wind key legislators were questioning why he was entering into a multiyear contract when they authorized money for only one year.
No amount of tweaking at this point will remove the taint of what’s happened. A contract was awarded to an out-of-state company under terms the Legislature never authorized. The two other finalists were from Idaho. ENA has contributed money to Luna campaigns and those of 40 sitting legislators. Its point person in Idaho was once a Luna staffer.
When asked, the Education Department refused to say whether ENA was the lowest bidder. As it turns out, four companies submitted lower offers. Tek-Hut submitted a price that was 21.9 percent lower than ENA’s. The Twin Falls company, which was one of three finalists, said it could do the job for $1.65 million in the first year, which is still lower than ENA’s price after concessions.
Back in July, Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, asked, “My word – how can they?”
Gov. Butch Otter said, “It’s not necessarily how I would have done it.”
Then do it over.
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