Maryland school officials are closely watching a legal battle over a major computer contract in Anne Arundel County that pits cost against quality in the purchase of technology services.

GTSI, the company that initially won the Anne Arundel school board’s computer leasing contract, has asked the State Board of Education to overturn the county’s decision to toss out the bids and start over. The county school board’s action came in response to a challenge from the low bidder, ISmart, which claimed that under state purchasing laws, it should have gotten the job.

The legal squabble has delayed the delivery of thousands of computers to classrooms and disrupted plans for new courses that were dependent on the technology. But the dispute could have broader implications.

In its appeal to the state board in July, GTSI warned that if the ruling of the county board stands, school districts across Maryland will be forced to adopt what it calls a “low-price-minimally-technically-acceptable-bid-wi ns” policy.

“In my opinion, if that is the implication here, I think we’re going to be in trouble,” Patsy Monteleone, the Baltimore County school system’s manager of computer and network support, told the Baltimore Sun. “You want to get the best product for the best money. And the best product is not always the cheapest product.”

In March, Anne Arundel County school officials awarded the contract for its Technology Refresh project to GTSI, which had bid $25 million. ISmart’s proposal was $1.2 million less.

Among the four finalists for the job, ISmart ranked lowest in the technology category and GTSI scored the highest. In the cost evaluation, ISmart came in first for submitting the low bid and GTSI was the next lowest.

According to its Technology Refresh contract, the Anne Arundel County school system plans to lease 4,000 computers each year over the next three years to upgrade classroom technology and address concerns about computer inequity among schools. The contract calls for the computer