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The state’s WiFi contract: a Friday roundup

A little more fallout and followup from the controversial contract to hook up WiFi service in Idaho high schools:

A lower bid? Twin Falls-based Tek-Hut Inc. says it bid $1.6 million a year on the WiFi contract. The winning bidder, Nashville, Tenn.-based Education Networks of America, bid $2.1 million — below the state’s $2.25 million budget, but $500,000 more than Tek-Hut’s purported bid.

“ENA has a very strong relationship with the state of Idaho,” Nate Bondelid, part-owner of Tek-Hut, told the Idaho Statesman. “(It’s tough to) play ball with people who are connected politically.”

ENA already has the contract for the Idaho Education Network, providing broadband to the state’s high schools. For more about ENA’s long list of financial contributions — to state superintendent Tom Luna, Gov. Butch Otter and more than 40 past and current legislators — check my blog from Wednesday.

Idaho Education News has filed a public records request for the bids — as well as any “scoring documents” that explain the decision to award the contract to ENA. The Education Department has posted a copy of the ENA contract and redacted copy of the company’s proposal online — and here’s the link to it. (Spoiler alert: it’s a 410-page document.)

Who made the call? Here are the nine members of the review committee that awarded the contract to ENA:

  • Jerry Reininger, Meridian School District.
  • Will Goodman, Mountain Home School District.
  • Chris Campbell, Genesee School District.
  • David McCauley, director,  POD Solutions.
  • Jefferson Jewell, managing director, Xtreme Technologies.
  • Todd King, IT resource manager, Idaho State Department of Education.
  • Todd Lawrence, technology coordinator, Idaho State Department of Education.
  • Roger Sargent, ISEE Region III coordinator, Idaho State Department of Education.
  • Louie Konkol, Chief Fiscal Officer, Idaho State Department of Education.

Luna himself wasn’t on the committee, but four Education Department staffers were.

The department has said the committee unanimously recommended ENA.

Who wants the WiFi service? So far, 93 of the state’s 340 high schools have signed up, according to the Associated Press. Several large school districts — including Meridian, Nampa, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls — are considering joining the state WiFi network.

For school districts on the fence, the clock is ticking. They must decide by Aug. 1 whether they want to sign on to have WiFi installed for 2013-14. The Education Department says schools would be connected by March.

So what’s the bottom line? If only 93 schools end up signing on, the WiFi hookups will cost the state nearly $23,000 per school. Coeur d’Alene has been looking to spend $18,000 to hook up its three high schools, according to the AP. (Click on the Spokane Spokesman-Review Betsy Russell’s blog to read the full AP story.)

State officials say the WiFi contract can’t be judged on price alone — and the price will drop, if more schools sign on. “The contractor had to take on all the risk, assuming 340 high schools did sign up in the first year, and would have to pay for it,” Luna spokeswoman Melissa McGrath told the AP. “That’s the way the contract is structured.”

And some final reactions …

… from the Facebook page of Steve Smylie, a teacher and former legislator from Boise, who narrowly lost to Luna in the 2006 GOP primary: “It’s all about politics. While I have no issue with spending the money and getting every school in the state connected with the most up-to date services out there; this whole deal rings of cronyism and overstepping his legislative directive.” As for opposing Luna again, Smylie writes that he would run, but remains in debt from the 2006 race.

… from the Idaho Education Association’s Twitter account (@IdahoEdAssoc): “Tom Luna ignored voices of ID people. Signed 15 yr deal 4 internet w/company that donated 2 his campaign.”

The ENA contract runs five years — but the state has options that could extend the contract to 15 years. Defending the long-term contract, in the face of legislative criticism, the Education Department says the state can opt out, without penalty, if legislators pull the plug on funding.

Kevin Richert is a reporter and blogger at Idaho Education News (idahoednews.org). Kevin is a former Statesman editorial page editor, with 27 year's experience in Idaho journalism.

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