Bidding delays laptops for Idaho teachers

The state has budgeted $2.56 million for the first round of laptops this year, an average of $391 apiece.

The first round of more than 6,000 laptop computers, one for every high school teacher and administrator in Idaho, already was supposed to be delivered to Idaho’s schools this month under the controversial Students Come First school reform plan, but holdups in finding a suitable vendor have pushed that time frame way back.

“At this point, the goal would be to get those devices into teacher and principal hands by the beginning of the spring semester and then give them professional development throughout that semester and the summer,” said Melissa McGrath, a spokeswoman for state schools Superintendent Tom Luna. “That’s still within the law, … it’s just a little bit later in the year than we anticipated originally.”

After canceling a bidding process in June for lack of competitive bids, the state is now negotiating with up to a half-dozen potential providers of the computers, with hopes of picking one in the coming weeks. At stake is an eight-year contract worth more than $100 million, under which the provider would supply and maintain laptops for every Idaho high school student, provide technical support, and set up and maintain wireless networks in Idaho high schools.

“It’s the whole ball of wax,” said Idaho Division of Purchasing Director Bill Burns. “It’s a pretty big contract.”

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It’s unclear how long it would take to deliver the laptops after a vendor is selected. The state’s original request for proposals anticipated a four-month period, from July 1 to October. Said Burns, “It really depends on the supplier’s supply chain.”

The state has budgeted $2.56 million for the first round of laptops this year, an average of $391 apiece. But the bidder will set the price, and it’s unclear what will happen if the bid comes in higher than that.

“To be honest, I can’t answer that,” McGrath said. “We would have to work with the Division of Purchasing if that did happen.”

Meanwhile, a clause in the contract will state that the whole thing goes away if voters repeal the program on Nov. 6. “The contract would terminate,” Burns said. “We wanted to make that perfectly clear.”

That hasn’t stopped companies from expressing interest in the contract, Burns said. “They’re all aware of it. So I’m assuming that’s a risk they’re willing to take for the business.”

The plan to bring all of Idaho’s high schools to a “1-to-1 ratio” of computers to students is a centerpiece of Luna’s reforms, which also include requiring online courses as a high school graduation requirement; rolling back teachers’ collective bargaining rights; and imposing a new merit-pay bonus system for teachers, tied to student test scores among other factors.

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