WiFi contractor agrees to restructure deal

The state’s WiFi contractor has agreed to restructure its deal.

The restructuring could cut the state’s costs. The move also figures to reduce — but probably won’t eliminate — the cost gap between the winning bidder and the low bidder on the controversial project.

Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review reported Friday on the restructuring deal. Education Networks of America will now be paid based on the number of high schools and junior high schools that sign up for the state-provided wireless service — or, more precisely, the number of students who will ultimately have access to WiFi. Originally, the Nashville, Tenn.-based company agreed to a flat fee of $2.11 million for 2013-14, regardless of how many schools signed up.

The change was made in response to pressure from lawmakers.

“To me, it made no sense being charged the same whether one school signed up or every school signed up,” Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, told Russell. “The concessions didn’t necessarily satisfy all my concerns. Whether the concessions they’ve made will be palatable enough for the Legislature to appropriate funds again is the real issue.”

The restructuring is the latest plot twist surrounding a contract that has drawn fire for weeks, pitting Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna against fellow Republicans.

The 2013 Legislature appropriated $2.25 million for the WiFi contract, as part of a public schools budget signed into law by Gov. Butch Otter. In July, Luna signed a five-year contract with ENA, with options that could extend the deal to 15 years. Otter and some key legislators have questioned the use of one-time money to bankroll the first installment of a multiyear agreement.

That’s not a moot issue, since the contract is subject to state funding. If lawmakers decide not to fund the WiFi in 2014 or any future year, the contract is null and void.

It’s unclear exactly how much the contract restructuring could save the state. Under its contract, ENA will charge $21 per user per year. According to state Department of Education estimates, about 203 schools are expected to sign up for the WiFi — and the schools have a total enrollment of 89,863. Based on $21 per user, that would bring the first-year cost down to roughly $1.89 million, a savings of close to $225,000.

But these are still only estimates. Even though ENA has begun onsite surveys on the contract — and one district, Eastern Idaho’s Sugar-Salem School District, already has WiFi up and running — the state still doesn’t know how many schools will participate. “We are dealing directly with districts on this as site surveys are completed.”

Cost has been another contentious issue with the WiFi contract.

The state received 10 bids for the contract, and four bids came in below ENA’s one- and five-year costs. The low bidder, Twin Falls-based Tek-Hut, came in with a low bid of $1.65 million.

If the contract restructuring brings down ENA’s first-year bill to $1.89 million — the current projection, based on the Education Department’s estimates on WiFi use — this still leaves a $238,000 gap between Tek-Hut’s low bid and the cost of the ENA contract.


Catching up

The WiFi chronology — in 11 links:

  • July 23: Lawmakers blast multiyear WiFi deal.
  • July 24: Amid controversy, state superintendent Tom Luna awards WiFi contract.
  • July 24: Education Networks of America’s long list of campaign contributions to Luna, Gov. Butch Otter and more than 40 sitting legislators.
  • July 26: In its winning proposal, ENA touts its Idaho experience — and its political ties.
  • Aug. 2: Some 200 schools likely to sign on for WiFi service.
  • Aug. 2: The Boise School District explains its decision to sign on.
  • Aug. 6: State downplays discrepancy in WiFi proposal.
  • Aug. 7: Four bidders beat WiFi contractor’s price.
  • Aug. 8: WiFi deal: How ENA got the contract.
  • Aug. 8: Low bidder raises questions about WiFi decision.
  • Sept. 5: WiFi up and running in one district; project remains on schedule.
Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday