Education Week - March 6, 2013 - (Page 10)

10 EDUCATION WEEK n MARCH 6, 2013 n INDUSTRY & INNOVATION > Tracking business trends and emerging models in K-12 Wisconsin Data-Contract Fight Goes Public With Ad Campaign By Sean Cavanagh not unusual. “Everybody thinks they should win. That’s just human nature,” Mr. Gallt said. Yet “the magnitude of this contract is what’s drawing more attention,” he pointed out. “That’s a pretty big number.” A fight over a lucrative contract to create a statewide student data system in Wisconsin has generated an official protest, public campaigning, and a dispute between two companies over which is better suited to create Border Rivalry and manage an electronic warehouse of information for schools. Wisconsin’s legislature approved Earlier this month, the state the creation of a student-informaannounced its intention to award tion system in 2011, in what was a contract to Infinite Campus described as an effort to streamline Inc., a Minnesota-based company, and simplify the collection of data to build and administer the sys- on student test performance, attentem for more than 440 school dis- dance, health records, discipline, tricts and charter schools. and special education services. The That decision has drawn the idea was to establish a faster, more objections of a losing bidder, Sky- consistent, and less costly model ward Inc., a Wisconsin company for gathering and storing that inthat recently took out advertise- formation than having individual ments in the state’s largest news- districts do it on their own. papers warning readers that the Last year, the state issued a recontract decision could result in quest for proposals to undertake the business being “pushed out of the project. A panel reviewed the state.” seven proposals and eventually The battle underscores the high gave the highest-scoring proposal financial stakes for companies at- to Infinite Campus, beating out temping to secure the rights to Skyward and other vendors. On operate statewide school informa- Feb. 1, the department of admintion systems, which have become istration issued a notice of intent increasingly essential to state gov- to award the student-information ernments over the years, as states contract to Infinite Campus. and districts attempt to collect Skyward later filed a protest and manage reams of education with state officials, arguing that data. Wisconsin has initially bud- a “non-Wisconsin company” had geted $15 million for its system. been awarded the contract after The overall size of the contract a process that was “plagued with could run as high as $90 million irregularities” and scoring errors. over time, Skyward officials said, Specifically, the company said though an Infinite Campus official evaluators had made mathematical offered a lower estimate. mistakes that gave Infinite Campus “Information technology systems too high a score, and improperly tend to be the big-ticket items in inflated Skyward’s cost proposal— most states” today, said Jack which the Stevens Point, Wis.-based Gallt, the executive director of company said was in fact $14.5 milthe National Association of State lion lower than Infinite Campus’ Procurement Officials, based in over the life of the contract. Lexington, Ky. States are making Skyward officials noted that major investments in those tech- they currently operate student nology systems for not only educa- information systems in about 220 tion, but also health care, public Wisconsin school systems, and safety, and other areas. forcing those districts to incur exIn one sense, disputes over the penses by switching to a different BI_3.75x3.125_BI_Ad 2/6/13 are vendor—Infinite Campus—would awarding of those contracts12:21 PM Page 1 Make learning an experience Get out in the field with our experts and learn how to bring experiential learning into your classroom and connect your students to your local environment. Visit us online for fundraising tips and to register. Limited scholarship funding available. Register today! register online: bring new costs to taxpayers. The Wisconsin company also took issue with the removal of one of the evaluators during the review of company proposals. That individual was removed after a subject-matter expert observing the process warned that the evaluator could be perceived as coaching or assisting one of the vendors during a question-and-answer session. An independent report commissioned by the state found that the decision to remove the unnamed evaluator was made out of an “abundance of caution,” and was “reasonable under the circumstances.” That report, produced by a Wisconsin law firm, concluded that the overall evaluation process revealed “no bias in favor or against any bidder.” Statehouse Action? Skyward officials disagree. In addition to filing a protest with the state, they’re taking their case to the public. The company took out ads in a number of Wisconsin’s largest newspapers urging residents to contact the state’s elected schools superintendent, Tony Evers, and Republican Gov. Scott Walker, presumably to take action on Skyward’s behalf. “We felt it necessary to get a message out to the state,” said Raymond Ackerlund, Skyward’s vice president of marketing and management. “Because we’re based in the state of Wisconsin, this is more personal to us.” The extent to which state officials could help Skyward is unclear. Stephanie Marquis, a spokeswoman for the department of administration, said the vendor selection process is purposely designed to be “shielded from the political process,” and based on which company can provide the best services at the best price. But this month, a bipartisan group of state legislators, including Sen. Julie Lassa, a Democrat who represents Stevens Point, filed a bill that would require the state to choose at least two vendors to operate its student-data system, on a competitive basis. The legislation would “save school districts millions and prevent the loss of hundreds of goodpaying jobs in Wisconsin,” the lawmakers said in a statement. Skyward’s complaint will go to the department of public instruction, and if the response does not satisfy the company, it can appeal to the department of administration, said Patrick Gasper, a spokesman for the state education agency. The agency will conduct a “fair and comprehensive review of their protest,” he said in a statement. Eric Creighton, Infinite Campus’ chief operating officer, said the idea that his company’s work would cost millions more than Skyward’s is “not based in reality.” “They’re cherry-picking the information and using it to support an otherwise unfounded claim,” Mr. Creighton said. The process of awarding the contract was “fair and open and transparent.” The operations of both Skyward and Infinite Campus extend well beyond Wisconsin and the Midwestern United States. Skyward provides services to about 1,600 school districts nationally and internationally with studentinformation and human-resource systems, Mr. Ackerlund said. It currently has 280 employees in Wisconsin, and if its future growth occurs out of state, “it is only prudent to locate our company in an optimal location to better support that growth,” he said in an e-mail. Infinite Campus, located in the Minneapolis suburb of Blaine, describes itself as the largest American-owned manager of student-information systems, and estimates its products serve Data company Skyward Inc. has run ads in Wisconsin’s largest newspapers to protest a state decision on a data-services contract. 5 million students in 43 states. While its presence in Wisconsin districts is smaller than Skyward’s, it operates statewide student-information systems, similar to those envisioned in Wisconsin, in a number of states. While Infinite Campus supports its rival’s right to protest the state’s contract decision, Mr. Creighton said Wisconsin officials created a sound process designed to obtain low-cost services without political interference. State lawmakers did not envision the student-information system as “a jobs bill,” he said. Coverage of the education industry and K-12 innovation is supported in part by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - March 6, 2013

Education Week - March 6, 2013
Los Angeles School Board Race Shatters Spending Records
Feds, States Dicker Over Evaluations
Governors Take Varied Routes in Boosting Aid
Principal Appraisals Get a Remake
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Study: Best and Worst Teachers Can Be Flagged Early
FOCUS ON: PRESCHOOL: Obama Preschool Proposal Stirs Debate Over Training
Principals Lack Training in Shaping School Climate
KIPP Outpacing Regular Public Schools, Study Finds
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: Wisconsin Data-Contract Fight Goes Public With Ad Campaign
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Pew Survey Gauges Teachers’ Attitudes About Tech., Equity
Blogs of the Week
Voting Rights Act Case Has Stakes for Districts
Back Home, Top Lawmaker Gets Earful on K-12 Policy
Policy Brief
Sequestration and Education: Frequently Asked Questions
9 California Districts Seek Own NCLB Waiver
House Panel Weighs School Safety Concerns
MATTHEW LYNCH: Tracing Technology’s Unintended K-12 Consequences
ANITA KRISHNAMURTHI: Recognizing the Impact of After-School STEM
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
JD CHESLOFF: Why STEM Education Must Start In Early Childhood

Education Week - March 6, 2013