Stevens Point's Skyward Inc. is appealing the state's decision to award a massive student information services contract to a Minnesota-based company - as well it should. If allegations made by Skyward are correct, the final decision seems hard to justify.
The state's Department of Public Instruction is in the midst of massive reforms to the way public education is administered. Part of that process is an overhaul of the state's patchwork system of tracking student data.
So far, so good. Let's not lose sight of the reason for the overhaul: Everyone from parents to policymakers will benefit from having a statewide data system that allows apples-to-apples comparisons among school districts. Having a single vendor will significantly reduce bureaucratic bottlenecks at DPI, making that data easier for the public to access.
But Skyward and other critics have raised serious questions about the process by which the state Department of Administration awarded this grant. The state needs to account for some of Skyward's key claims:
? Was Skyward's bid lowest? According to the company, its bid was $2.6 million less per year than that of the winning company, Minnesota's Infinite Campus. Taxpayer value is an important consideration.
? Were implementation costs considered? More than half of the state's districts use Skyward's software now; only 10 percent use Infinite Campus. Changing the systems will be costly for many districts, and those costs very likely will be footed by taxpayers.
? Was the state's scoring system sound? A release from Skyward last week claimed that the state's scoring system included "numerous instances where the selected vendor received double the possible points." Were the scores administered fairly?
Skyward is, quite simply, a pillar of Stevens Point's economy. The company provides good-paying jobs and has been growing. A 2011 economic impact study by the Portage County Business Council showed that losing the company - a real possibility if it loses its state contract - would mean the loss of more than $209 million to that county's economy, and with it 825 current and projected jobs at the company and 2,215 jobs overall.
Based on current information, there appears to be little evidence that Infinite Campus, the Minnesota-based contract winner, provides a product that is so much better as to justify the economic consequences of the decision and the long-term costs to school districts. But if it is, the state should provide thorough, transparent information about how it came to its decision.
A review is certainly needed, and it's one all Wisconsin taxpayers should watch closely.