De Soto school board spars over $1 million technology buy
The problem isn’t with the amount of money spent on new technology infrastructure equipment, but with the way it was spent.
That’s the position some members of the De Soto school board took Monday night during a lengthy, heated discussion surrounding the close to $1 million in capital outlay funding recently spent by the district without first going to bid.
Measures have now been taken by the district to stop payment on the purchases and begin a bidding process, with bid specifications to be developed by a sub-committee of members on the board, as well as Jessica Dain, the district’s director of professional and program development. But it was a tense boardroom Monday night as members debated the appropriateness, and even legality, of spending the money outside of the bidding process to begin with.
The original purchase included technology necessary to allow wireless capability so that students could bring their own devices from home to use during classroom instruction. Board members approved the bring-your-own-device approach, and the capital outlay funding needed to support it, in July.
But while Superintendent Doug Sumner and some members of the board viewed that approval as a go-ahead to purchase the equipment with the guidance and assistance of K12itc, which manages the district’s technology, others on the board held a far different view.
“In no way did I ever assume or think that we would ever purchase this through K12itc without going through the bid process,” said board member Scott Hancock.
By Monday night’s meeting, the equipment had already been purchased, but a voided check for payment was on the meeting agenda for approval after some board members, including Hancock and Bill Fletcher, questioned the legality of the move.
According to the Kansas statute on purchases related to capital outlay projects, a district must go through the regular bidding process on any expenditure greater than $20,000.
Sumner said that the law does not apply in this case, based on an opinion released by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt in 2011, because the equipment was purchased through K12itc, the district’s technology service provider, and so would be considered incidental to the services provided.
“We do not believe, based on the council of our district’s attorney, that we have violated Kansas bid law in any way,” he said. “Incidental isn’t tied to a dollar amount. Incidental is tied to a level of involvement related to that specific project.”
“I wonder if the taxpayers would agree with that,” Hancock responded. “As a good general business practice, to purchase a million dollars worth of equipment without going to bid defies logic for me.”
Sumner did acknowledge one mistake by the district.
“We found today that the language of our board policy is more restrictive than the Kansas bid law,” Sumner said. That policy requires that any capital purchase greater than $20,000, with no exceptions, go through the bidding process. But the district’s purchase was made in good faith that it was what all board members wanted after July’s approval and that “we were on safe ground legally,” Sumner said.
“A mistake was made, and we are taking all measures to correct it,” he said.
Those measures include not only the voided check, but also a newspaper notice seeking interested bidders. The district will accept formal bids for purchase and installation of the equipment Oct. 2.
“While the remedy is not perfect … it is the best at this point that we can do,” Sumner said.
Alvie Cater, district spokesman, said Tuesday that the board's policy actually follows Kansas statutes regarding bids for capital outlay purchases and that no policy violation had actually taken place
Hancock and Fletcher, however, raised additional questions about K12itc’s level of involvement in writing the bid specifications. The new bid process gives K12itc the option to bid on the project, as well.
“If they’re bidding on it, how can I let them tell me what’s good and what’s bad?” Fletcher asked.
Brad Sandt, president of K12itc, was not present at the meeting.
Sumner argued that nobody else in the district has the level of expertise that K12itc does when it comes to technology. He also said he didn’t understand why the district wouldn’t put its trust in the hands of the technology firm that has been directly responsible for the care and maintenance of district technology since the 2011-2012 school year.
“We are responsible for this leadership,” said board member Dick Dearwester, pointing to the board’s unanimous approval to hire K12itc. Dearwester added that, at the meeting in July, the approval was also unanimous to go forward with funding the bring-your-own-device approach.
“I don’t know why we’re doing what we’re doing tonight, because I think we have already as a board made a decision,” he said.
Sumner assured board members that this type of situation “will not happen again.”
“Had we known that there was this level of disagreement on what we left that (July) meeting with, none of this would have happened,” he said. “We did not clarify it as we should have. … It’s time to fix this as best we can and move forward knowing that it is an issue we will not have to deal with again.”