Massachusetts law could cost schools their eRate discounts

If the spools of red tape associated with the eRate have your head spinning, you’re not alone. School officials throughout Massachusetts are worried that a state law enacted years ago might prevent them from applying for the discount within the 75-day filing window.

Chapter 149 of the Massachusetts General Laws, aimed at fighting corruption in awarding public building contracts, requires that the bidding for design, construction, and subcontracting of public buildings each be held separately. If the law is followed, several schools will miss the deadline.

“There’s no question that if schools have to go through Chapter 149, they are virtually assured they will not be able to meet the 75-day window,” said Greg Nadeau, chief technology officer for the State Department of Education.

Nadeau said the state faces a 12-month backlog of networking projects. If schools must go through three separate bidding processes before they are able to contract for services, Nadeau said, it would be physically impossible for schools to sign contracts within 75 days. Schools must contract with a service provider before they are eligible to apply for the eRate.

In September, the Massachusetts attorney general released a statement indicating that networking projects for the state’s public schools would have to comply with either Chapter 149 or Chapter 30b, the law on procurement of goods and services. State officials agree that not all installation projects must comply with Chapter 149, but they disagree on how to decide which do and which don’t.

Nadeau said that in Boston alone, 120 schools will need major structural work before classrooms can be wired. Significant construction is necessary, he said, because many of the city’s school buildings are old. Nadeau is worried that these types of projects would fall under Chapter 149.

State officials are investigating what action they can take to solve the problem.

eSchool News Staff

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