State WiFi project: One district done

A little over a month after the state awarded a controversial WiFi contract, one school district has its new wireless connection up and running.

Four more districts are in the pipeline, and at this point, the WiFi installation project is proceeding on schedule, says Luci Willits, chief of staff to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna.

The WiFi contract, awarded to Nashville, Tenn.-based Education Networks of America, could cover roughly 200 high schools and junior high schools across the state. It’s still unclear how many schools will wind up getting the WiFi service, Willits said this week.

But in two schools in eastern Idaho’s Sugar-Salem School District, the WiFi work is done. Site surveys have been finished in Bear Lake, Lewiston, Cottonwood and Whitepine, and those districts are next in line to receive WiFi, Willits said.

More than 110 school districts and public charter schools have decided to opt in for the state-provided WiFi — and most want the work done quickly. Sixty-three want WiFi as soon as possible, Willits said; another 27 want WiFi by October.

But one school doesn’t want WiFi installed until May, which is technically past the  March 15 contract deadline to complete work.

While the WiFi project has widespread support from schools, the contract has its critics.

Gov. Butch Otter and some lawmakers have questioned the deal — and the use of one-time money to bankroll a long-agreement. The 2013 Legislature earmarked $2.25 million for the WiFi project, but the state signed a five-year agreement with ENA — and with options, the contract could extend to 15 years at a taxpayer cost of $33.3 million.

Other bidders have raised questions as well — particularly Tek-Hut of Twin Falls, the low bidder on the contract. Tek-Hut’s submitted two bids for the contract, including one at a first-year cost of $1,649,000, 21 percent below the successful ENA bid of $2,111,655. The state received 10 bids for the contract, four coming in below ENA’s price. But a review committee of state Education Department staffers, school district officials and private sector representatives unanimously selected ENA.

Catching up

The WiFi chronology — in 10 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.
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]

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