What’s next for Idaho’s college broadband network?

Teresa Luna

Teresa Luna, state Administration Department director, discusses the Idaho Education Network funding crisis at a Senate Education Committee hearing in February.

The state is “exploring all opportunities” to keep broadband in the state’s high schools, Administration Department Director Teresa Luna said Thursday.

But the future of the Idaho Education Network will be decided in the courtroom and legislative chambers, or both.

At stake is a popular but embattled broadband network: popular because it has linked Idaho’s high schools and brought new learning opportunities to rural schools; embattled because its $ 60 million contract has been the subject of five years of litigation.

The latest legal motions

The network’s future was thrown into turmoil on Nov. 10, when District Judge Patrick Owen declared the network contract null and void. When the state cut Syringa Networks out of the contract, that tainted the entire deal — and now, he says, the contract cannot be salvaged.

For schools, the worst-case scenario is far-reaching. Without a contract, high schools will no longer be able to offer virtual and dual-credit classes — after students and parents have paid fees for dual-credit offerings. Computerized testing will fall by the wayside. School districts, which saw their operational dollars cut during the recession, do not have the money to replace the network.

The implications even extend beyond the classroom, since the contract also covers high-speed Internet for state agencies. The Department of Health and Welfare uses the network to administer public assistance programs, for instance, while the Department of Fish and Game uses the network to process hunting licenses.

Consequently, the state wants to know what Owen really meant. The state’s hired attorneys filed a motion Tuesday asking Owen to clarify his ruling — or reconsider it.

The motion doesn’t sit well with two state senators who have a key role in this debate.

ShawnKeough91

Sen. Shawn Keough

“I’m a little frustrated, quite frankly,” said Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint. “It just seems like this is just another chapter in legal maneuvering, as opposed to solving the problem.”

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, doesn’t think Owen will be persuaded. “I think the odds of that are pretty low.”

Keough and Schmidt sit on the Program Resource Advisory Council, a panel of lawmakers and state and school officials that oversees the network. The council, better known as IPRAC, will meet Friday to discuss the case.

Keough and Schmidt both think the state should get out of the courtroom. Keough believes the 2014 Legislature sent a clear message; lawmakers bailed out the network to the tune of $ 11.4 million, but instructed the state to negotiate with Syringa. “Apprarently, that message didn’t get through.”

Schmidt wants the state to start over, rebidding the contract.

Mediation remains an option, Luna said Thursday. The same goes for rebidding the contract.

DeMordaunt1175

Rep. Reed DeMordaunt

Not everybody on IPRAC is ready to give up the case. House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt says Owen got the ruling wrong, so he supports the latest motion.

“I think it’s a good move, just in terms of getting the required clarification.”

Going it alone?

While the 5-year-old lawsuit continues to course its way through the courts, lawmakers will once again have to make some difficult decisions about funding the Idaho Education Network.

For lawmakers, that means a repeat of the 2014 session.

Legislative budget-writers were caught off-guard in January, when Luna told them they would have to come up with money to keep the network afloat. With the network contract still embroiled in litigation, a Federal Communications Commission contractor had cut off payments to the state. These “E-Rate” payments, surcharges from telephone bills, had supplied 75 percent of the network’s budget.

The $ 11.4 million was designed to fill the void — but keep the network online only through February. Lawmakers wanted to give themselves a chance to review the situation at the start of the 2015 session.

There will be plenty to discuss. They will be asked to consider another payment, probably in the $ 2.2 million range, to cover the network through June 30, the end of the 2014-15 budget year. Then comes 2015-16, when the stakes will be higher. It could cost anywhere from $ 2.74 million to $ 9.46 million to stay online, depending on what happens to E-Rate payments.

No one seems to be talking about yanking broadband from the high schools. It seems inevitable that some tax dollars will go into this system, now and into the future.

But DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, says the funding debate may be different next session. In 2014, lawmakers were willing to plug the hole in the budget, and assume the E-Rate money would start flowing again. In 2015, lawmakers may begin to contemplate what kind of network the state can afford, if it goes it alone.

“I think you have to have that discussion,” said DeMordaunt, who emphasizes that he wants to keep the network online.

The Administration Department isn’t contemplating cutbacks, said Luna. “We’re committed to providing the same service tomorrow that we are providing today.”

Otter square

Gov. Butch Otter

And one key player — in the legal and budgetary process — is Gov. Butch Otter. Re-elected to a third term earlier this month, Otter touts the broadband network as a milestone in improving rural education. But the architect of the disputed contract was Otter confidante Mike Gwartney, Luna’s predecessor at the Administration Department.

What does Otter want? He isn’t saying. He declined interview requests this week.

“The governor is out of the state at the moment at (a Republican Governors Association conference) and as you know this issue is still playing out in the courts,” Otter spokesman Jon Hanian said Thursday. “He is not going to comment while that process is still under way.”

Leave a Reply

 

What’s next for Idaho’s college broadband network?

Teresa Luna

Teresa Luna, state Administration Division director, discusses the Idaho Schooling Network funding crisis at a Senate Training Committee hearing in February.

The state is “exploring all opportunities” to maintain broadband in the state’s high colleges, Administration Division Director Teresa Luna mentioned Thursday.

But the future of the Idaho Schooling Network will be made a decision in the courtroom and legislative chambers, or the two.

At stake is a common but embattled broadband network: popular since it has linked Idaho’s higher colleges and brought new studying options to rural schools embattled since its $ 60 million contract has been the subject of five years of litigation.

The most current legal motions

The network’s potential was thrown into turmoil on Nov. 10, when District Judge Patrick Owen declared the network contract null and void. When the state lower Syringa Networks out of the contract, that tainted the whole deal — and now, he says, the contract can’t be salvaged.

For colleges, the worst-case scenario is far-reaching. With no a contract, large schools will no longer be ready to supply virtual and dual-credit lessons — following college students and mothers and fathers have paid costs for dual-credit offerings. Computerized testing will fall by the wayside. College districts, which saw their operational bucks cut for the duration of the recession, do not have the money to replace the network.

The implications even extend past the classroom, because the contract also covers substantial-speed Web for state companies. The Department of Well being and Welfare uses the network to administer public help applications, for instance, while the Department of Fish and Game utilizes the network to procedure hunting licenses.

Consequently, the state desires to know what Owen actually meant. The state’s hired attorneys filed a motion Tuesday asking Owen to clarify his ruling — or reconsider it.

The motion does not sit properly with two state senators who have a crucial part in this debate.

ShawnKeough91

Sen. Shawn Keough

“I’m a minor frustrated, fairly frankly,” mentioned Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint. “It just seems like this is just another chapter in legal maneuvering, as opposed to solving the dilemma.”

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, does not believe Owen will be persuaded. “I consider the odds of that are fairly lower.”

Keough and Schmidt sit on the System Resource Advisory Council, a panel of lawmakers and state and college officials that oversees the network. The council, better acknowledged as IPRAC, will meet Friday to discuss the case.

Keough and Schmidt both feel the state need to get out of the courtroom. Keough believes the 2014 Legislature sent a clear message lawmakers bailed out the network to the tune of $ eleven.four million, but instructed the state to negotiate with Syringa. “Apprarently, that message didn’t get by means of.”

Schmidt wants the state to start off above, rebidding the contract.

Mediation remains an option, Luna said Thursday. The exact same goes for rebidding the contract.

DeMordaunt1175

Rep. Reed DeMordaunt

Not everyone on IPRAC is ready to give up the situation. House Schooling Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt says Owen got the ruling incorrect, so he supports the most current movement.

“I consider it’s a excellent move, just in terms of acquiring the required clarification.”

Going it alone?

Although the 5-year-old lawsuit continues to course its way via the courts, lawmakers will once again have to make some hard decisions about funding the Idaho Education Network.

For lawmakers, that indicates a repeat of the 2014 session.

Legislative budget-writers were caught off-guard in January, when Luna advised them they would have to come up with income to maintain the network afloat. With the network contract nonetheless embroiled in litigation, a Federal Communications Commission contractor had lower off payments to the state. These “E-Rate” payments, surcharges from phone bills, had supplied 75 % of the network’s spending budget.

The $ eleven.4 million was created to fill the void — but keep the network online only by means of February. Lawmakers desired to give themselves a chance to review the situation at the start of the 2015 session.

There will be loads to discuss. They will be asked to take into account another payment, most likely in the $ 2.2 million selection, to cover the network by way of June 30, the end of the 2014-15 budget 12 months. Then comes 2015-sixteen, when the stakes will be larger. It could cost anywhere from $ 2.74 million to $ 9.46 million to stay online, depending on what transpires to E-Price payments.

No one would seem to be talking about yanking broadband from the large schools. It would seem inevitable that some tax dollars will go into this system, now and into the potential.

But DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, says the funding debate could be various subsequent session. In 2014, lawmakers had been inclined to plug the hole in the spending budget, and assume the E-Charge cash would start off flowing once again. In 2015, lawmakers may possibly get started to contemplate what variety of network the state can afford, if it goes it alone.

“I consider you have to have that discussion,” mentioned DeMordaunt, who emphasizes that he needs to hold the network on the web.

The Administration Division is not considering cutbacks, stated Luna. “We’re committed to delivering the exact same services tomorrow that we are supplying these days.”

Otter square

Gov. Butch Otter

And a single crucial player — in the legal and budgetary procedure — is Gov. Butch Otter. Re-elected to a third term earlier this month, Otter touts the broadband network as a milestone in enhancing rural training. But the architect of the disputed contract was Otter confidante Mike Gwartney, Luna’s predecessor at the Administration Division.

What does Otter want? He isn’t saying. He declined interview requests this week.

“The governor is out of the state at the moment at (a Republican Governors Association conference) and as you know this situation is still enjoying out in the courts,” Otter spokesman Jon Hanian explained Thursday. “He is not going to comment although that process is still below way.”

Leave a Reply