Saturday, August 3, 2013

Boise Joins 100+ School Districts, Charter Schools in State Wireless Deal

Posted By on Sat, Aug 3, 2013 at 12:00 PM

As many as 114 school districts and charter schools throughout Idaho, including the Boise School District, may be hooked up to the state's new Wi-Fi service, as part of a controversial multiyear deal between the Idaho State Department of Education and Nashville-based Education Networks of America.

Officials with the Boise School District announced Aug. 2 that they will participate in the deal with ENA "after conducting a thorough review of existing wireless technology, as well as detailed conversations with representatives from the Idaho State Department of Education and ENA."

Boise District School Superintendent Don Coberly said by participating with the state's program, the district "will be able to move to a very desirable two-to-one ratio" of classrooms to wireless access.

"Plus, it gives us the flexibility to expand our own wireless program to areas requiring one-to-one access, such as math, science and critical reading programs," said Coberly. "At its core, this is an infrastructure project, not a device project. We believe that it's much more appropriate for the state to help us build a highway than to tell us what kind of cars we need to buy."

Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for the ISDE said the state won't have an exact figure of how many Idaho schools will be linked to the new contract until ENA conducts site visits, which are expected to begin Monday, Aug. 12.

Caldwell, Kuna, Meridian, Middleton and Nampa districts will also connect to ENA's service.

Schools might be on board with the deal, but many lawmakers are not. Both the chair and vice chair of the Idaho Senate Finance Committee were taken aback by Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's announcement that the state had inked a five-year, $2.11 million per year deal with ENA—one of his campaign contributors. Legislators had only given the green light for one year. The chairman, Rupert Republican Sen. Dean Cameron, told the Spokesman-Review that "Luna's move shows a lack of judgment" and was "certainly a stretch, and perhaps borderline on a lack of honesty."

"We did not agree and probably would not have agreed to a multiyear contract during last session, particularly given the financial straits that we believed we were under," Cameron told the Spokesman-Review.

The Associated Press reports that vice chair Sandpoint Republican Sen. Shawn Keough expressed equal concern.

"That seems like that ought to be homework we need to be doing ahead of awarding a contract like this," she said, referring to the uncertainty of how many Idaho schools would actually secure the wireless service.

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