WAUSAU, WI (WSAU) - The state that Governor Scott Walker says is “Open for Business” has people asking why Wisconsin is not open for competition on state purchases. Procurement rules may be the answer.
The state’s decision to award a statewide student information software contract to an out-of-state company serving less than 10% of Wisconsin’s schools remains a political storm, even a week after the announcement.
It was announced late last Friday the state would seek a 15-million dollar contract with Infinite Campus of Blaine Minnesota and not Skyward of Stevens Point. Part of the uproar is due to sending the contract out of state. Part of it is because Skyward already serves over half of Wisconsin’s schools and the local district costs of changing software will total into the millions of dollars. Central Wisconsin leaders and political figures have been quick to criticize the contract decision.
Governor Scott Walker took questions from the press after an appearance Friday at the National Rifle Association convention in Wausau, and none of the questions were about guns or the Second Amendment rights. It was almost entirely about Skyward and this contract announcement.
Walker says The Department of Administration didn’t make the procurement decision, but they are bound by law to uphold it. "I think the Department of Public Instruction, I would stress, this is their decision, wanted to have a way where they could measure school districts across the state and have a consistent measurement so you didn't have one system in one place and another system in a different place, none of which were comparable. Again, that was their decision and not the state's in terms of my administration. We're just simply administering that.”
States including Texas have multiple vendors for this type of software, and are able to obtain necessary reporting data and school management features across the different software platforms.
The Governor says a Department of Public Instruction panel picked Infinite Campus based on procurement laws that have been in place for the state long before he was Governor. Walker says the calls and letters demanding answers and an investigation should be directed at them. "It's not a political process. The whole reason the law is in place is so that you have procurement decisions made on behalf of the people of the state of Wisconsin, not based on political pressures, but based on objective criteria, so from our standpoint, we've in the past worked with them (Skyward) to help them, but the letters should really be directed to the Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, who is the person whose agency ultimately makes the pick on that."
Skyward filed its challenge of the contract award early Friday. It said Skyward’s bid was $2.6 million dollars less per year than what Infinite Campus offered. Skyward also claims the implementation costs identified by the state’s education agency were not reflected in the comparison of the two offers.
In a radio interview Monday, Skyward’s CEO Clifford King also questioned if the state took into account the cost for individual school districts to change software products, noting some districts have in excess of $250,000 already tied up in student information systems. King says forcing 90% of Wisconsin’s local school districts to come up with that cash will be challenging, and he’s not certain the state took that into consideration.
The Minnesota company that won the contract said Friday that the bidding process was, “fair, transparent, and open.” Infinite Campus released a score sheet showing they were given the highest technical score in the bidding process – and how it claimed the lowest cost.
Infinite Campus may only be used in less than 10% of Wisconsin’s schools, but they also have another influential partner in the Badger state. Wisconsin’s Cooperative Educational Service Agency’s, or CESA’s, offer links on their websites to Infinite Campus for schools seeking to buy student information software.
Governor Walker said Friday that the state may be able to work with Skyward to try and keep them and their jobs in the state, but he and the Department of Administration are unable to make a move until Skyward’s challenge of the bid and any legal action is completed.
Wisconsin Radio Network's Andrew Beckett contributed informaton for this article.