Florida’s 3,700 schools could their loose internet access this year if the Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co. doesn’t reverse its decision to deny the state’s eRate application, warned Florida Education Commissioner Jim Horne.

The SLD, which oversees the $2.25 billion-a-year federal program, denied Florida’s request for more than $7.4 million in 2003 eRate discounts because the state’s three applications allegedly did not show that price was the primary factor in selecting a service provider.

“Price doesn’t need to be the only factor [in selecting a service provider], but price has to be the primary factor,” SLD spokesman Mel Blackwell said. “We didn’t have evidence that price was the primary factor in their selection.”

In appeals filed by Horne on behalf of the Florida Department of Education Aug. 21, the state argues the SLD misinterpreted Florida’s “evaluation criteria” for selecting vendors. State procurement laws “mandate that price be the primary factor in the [department’s] selection of a successful vendor,” the appeal said. Contracts also must be awarded to the bidder offering the “best value.”

“The evaluation process & clearly and convincingly shows that the department fulfilled this mandate,” the appeal said.

To find the most cost-effective solution, the state reportedly developed a rubric that assigned points to the various parts of the bids to help evaluators easily compare them. The category for “Overall Project Concept, Design, and Cost” was weighted the highest, accounting for 35 percent of a bids total score. The company selected by the state, Hayes E-Government Resources Inc., received the highest score of 83.6 percent. The next highest were Fijitsu (74.6 percent), AT&T (72.4 percent), and ITC Delfacom (41.6 percent).

Losing $7.4 million in eRate discounts will have a devastating effect on the state’s network, known as the Florida Information Resource Network, state officials said. The state had set aside $5.6 million to pay for the system but also counted largely on eRate discounts.

“In the tight budget year we just had, and with districts tightening their belts, I think it would be very difficult for districts at this point to come up with an extra $8 million [on their own],” State Sen. Lisa Carlton, R-Osprey, and chairwoman of the Senate Education Appropriations Committee told the Gainsville Sun.

Another problem is that the state already turned over the operation of its network to Hayes in July (through a contract signed last January) and since then has shifted employees and equipment over to Hayes, the Sun reported. The state had negotiated in its contract with Hayes that if eRate funding were to fall through, the contract would terminate automatically, but that still leaves the state’s schools without internet access, the Sun reported.

Links:

Florida Department of Education
http://www.fldoe.org