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Most expensive bidder wins technology sale to Fayette schools; teachers' evaluations rejected

Central office committee throws out teacher evaluations of classroom equipment as ‘unreliable’; difference between low and high bidder could be more than $500,000

The Fayette County School System last year threw out evaluations of classroom technology from dozens of teachers as “unreliable” and awarded the sale to the most expensive bidder out of three bids submitted.

The difference between the low and high bid could amount to as much as a half million dollars. Both low bidders have complained to the system, but so far to no avail, The Citizen has learned.

It was a move to enhance the classrooms in Fayette County schools. But the award for 21st Century Classroom technology in November to MultiMedia Services was followed by a formal protest of the bid award by bidder Summit Systems and a letter of concern by the third bid finalist RM Education.

In the midst of the process to determine the bid outcome, the input from teachers who would be using the classroom technology was eliminated from consideration by the school system’s 21st Century Classroom Committee because that input was deemed “not valid and unreliable.”

Of the three bid finalists, the per classroom bid by MultiMedia was highest at $2,657.25, followed by Summit Systems at $2,342 and RM Education at $2,109.23.

While representing a difference of $548.02, that number swells to as much as $548,000 when considering that up to 1,000 Fayette classrooms still require some or all of the technology adaptations, according to school officials.

MultiMedia got the bid award in November.

Once completely outfitted in three phases, the school system’s classroom technology equipment will be utilized by students and teachers across the system.

The nine-member 21st Century committee, two of which were non-voting members, determined which bid to recommend to the school board by considering four weighted categories. Those weighting factors were “Quality of Solution” at 35 percent, “Price” at 25 percent, “Business Capability” at 20 percent and “References” at 20 percent.

“Quality of Solution” for Phase 1 included projector installation and equipment and, in Phase 2, the performance and functionality of the equipment installed for the test installation, according to information provided by the school system.

As explained in the tabulation summary, “Quality of Solution” was given a total of 200 points, with 100 of those coming from the committee and 100 from the survey scores.

According to information provided by the school system, the committee responding to the Summit protest documentation said that “teachers found the rooms to be fairly equal, but the committee scored them differently.”

The committee said that after the classroom installations by the three vendors were complete, committee members were asked to go to each of the three classrooms to use and test the equipment. All three vendors were contacted to make varying degrees of corrections to installations prior to the final review.

“The Committee convened, discussed the quality of solution and determined the score by consensus. The committee reviewed the teacher evaluations and opted to remove survey data from the tabulation. The Committee believes that the data collected through the survey was not valid and reliable,” school system documents said.

Berry-Dreisbach in checking with school system staff to determine how many teachers used the three classrooms and took the survey said those numbers are not specifically known. There were 71 surveys for the three classrooms, indicating some teachers may not have completed surveys for all three rooms or that some might have visited the same classroom more than once.

As a result of the committees’ finding and the elimination of the teacher’s survey responses committee members re-evaluated the weighting formula and allowed a maximum of 100 points by the committee to be combined with the scores for quality of solution, pricing, business capability and references.

The final score assigned by the committee gave MultiMedia a score of 85, followed by RM Education with a score of 73 and Summit Systems with a score of 61.

On the weighted quality of solution section, MultiMedia scored 35, followed by RM at 18 and Summit at 9. On pricing, Summit scored 23, RM scored 25 and MultiMedia scored 20. All three companies scored identically on the references and business capability sections.

Members of the committee that made the bid award decision were as follows: Purchasing Agent and committee chair Terri Gerhardt, Technology Services Director Curt Cearley, Instructional Technology Specialist Robyn Miller, Facilities Services Director Mike Satterfield, Bennett’s Mill Middle School Principal Rae Presley-King, Whitewater Middle School Media Specialist Patricia Hipps, Peeples Elementary Tech Specialist ReuAnn Annis, Tyrone Elementary Tech Specialist Kate Matthews and Kedron Elementary Principal Karen Bullock.

Asked to elaborate on the finding that the teacher survey data was “not valid and reliable,” the school system said, “The scoring was inconsistent throughout. The inconsistencies could not be attributed to specific questions or sections of the survey.”

Asked for further clarification, The Citizen was told that, “The initial purpose of the survey was to provide feedback to the Committee. The Committee decided to include the survey as part of the score. After further consideration the Committee determined that the surveys were not valid and reliable because the survey data was not collected under controlled conditions. The Committee determined:

“• Survey data was not scientifically tracked. There was no way to measure who completed the survey, experience level with the equipment or number of respondents who tested all three installations.

“• Survey questions may have been difficult for respondents to complete without specific knowledge of the equipment.

“• Survey responses were on a scale of 0 to 4 points with four being the highest.

“Respondents could not respond with ‘could not test’ or ‘did not test.’

“All of these factors created inconsistent data throughout. The surveys were reviewed by the Committee as a part of the process, but were not used as an independent score for the reasons stated above.”

Summit Systems initiated a bid protest in late 2009, with Senior Vice President Tim Gorisek noting that, “During our discovery this afternoon, my team has noted several minimum product specification discrepancies in the proposal from MultiMedia Services and also in Fayette County’s documentation and scoring used to judge the final vendors offerings and solutions to determine and justify the award.”

Summit in its bid protest letter asked for a meeting with Superintendent John DeCotis and other relevant school system staff.

Asked if that meeting had occurred, Berry-Dreisbach checked with school system officials and advised that the meeting was held on Jan. 6.

Representatives from Summit Systems, Inc. met with Curt Cearley, director of technology services, Cory Kirby, school system attorney and purchasing agent Terri Gerhardt, according to Berry-Dreisbach.

RM Education did not file a bid protest but did request two meetings to discuss their concerns. Gerhardt on Feb. 3 received an email from RM Education Vice President for Strategic Sales David Allen said, “I wanted to follow-up with you concerning the deployment timeframe Fayette has set for implementing the 21st Century Classroom. As you know at this point we have not had an opportunity to meet with the Superintendent and the Board Chair to express our position on the RFP not being awarded to lowest priced vendor, RM Education.”

“I do understand this award is under review and believe other vendor’s have been granted meetings concerning the award,” Allen continued. “My CEO, Mr. Kevin Pawsey, has asked that I follow up through proper channels to ensure we have the same opportunity to represent our (company’s) position on this issue. It is not our intention to create any dissension within the district or the community but to have an opportunity to discuss our position that we believe we should have received the reward.”

Berry-Dreisbach said an initial meeting with RM Education was held on Dec. 1 when company representatives met with Gerhardt and Deputy Superintendent Fred Oliver.

In Feb. 22 letters to both RM and Summit, Gerhardt said the committee reconvened to review their companies concerns and found that the evaluation process followed the criteria set forth in the Request for Proposal document.

The second meeting that followed the February email was held March 10 with DeCotis, comptroller Laura Brock, technology services director Curt Cearley, Terri Gerhardt and instructional technology specialist Robyn Miller.

As it stands, the protest by Summit and the concerns by RM Education were noted and the award to the most expensive bidder, MultiMedia, stands.

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