Skyward protests losing statewide contract
Written by Scott Bauer, Associated Press
MADISON — The Stevens Point company that lost out on a contract to run a student information system in the state’s schools protested the awarding of the bid to Minnesota’s Infinite Campus on Friday, arguing that the process was unfair.
Skyward Inc., said in its protest filed with the state Department of Public Instruction that it should be awarded the contract or all the bids should be thrown out. Skyward said DPI, as well as the committee of five unidentified people who evaluated the bids, “failed to provide a fair, transparent, and open process.”
Skyward, which employs about 270 people statewide, threatened to leave Wisconsin if it lost the contract that’s $15 million initially but could grow to as high as $80 million over the next decade. The company has been waging a public relations battle for the past two weeks since the state announced the contract would be going to Infinite Campus of Blaine, Minn., running full-page ads in newspapers across the state urging people to contact Gov. Scott Walker.
There is no deadline for DPI, which developed the request for proposals and is in charge of overseeing implementation of the data system, to review the merits of the protest. If DPI rejects the protest, Skyward could appeal directly to the secretary of Walker’s Department of Administration.
The protest will undergo a “fair and comprehensive review” as quickly as possible, said Patrick Gasper, spokesman for DPI.
State Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, represents the 71st Assembly District that includes Stevens Point, and she has been encouraging residents to call Walker and the DOA to protest the decision.
“We really need the DOA to stop (the contract process) and ask for an independent review of all (of) the process,” she said Friday night. “We don’t want the contract to happen before there’s due process.”
Shankland is meeting with Walker in five weeks to discuss Skyward. She suggested Walker could pull the $15 million from the budget and start the search for a new vendor or multiple vendors again.
Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman for DOA, which oversaw the evaluation and awarding of the bid, said the main factors in awarding any contract — getting the best quality product at the best price and doing it in a transparent way without outside influence — occurred in this instance.
A report issued by Cari Anne Renlund, an attorney for former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle who Walker’s administration hired to oversee the process, found no problems. Scores of the five evaluators who reviewed the bids showed that Infinite Campus outperformed Skyward 16,656 to 14,325.
Skyward said in its protest that in 73 instances Infinite Campus received scores that were higher than were allowed for those particular items. Skyward also said there were discrepancies both in the evaluation of technical requirements and the protection of key information related to pricing structure analysis.
Skyward further argues that over 10 years Skyward’s bid was $14.5 million less than Infinite Campus and that the state did not consider implementation costs districts would face.
Skyward also argues that one reviewer was removed because the selection committee thought she was opposed to Infinite Campus.
According to Renlund’s report, the reviewer was removed over concerns about the appearance of bias based on questions she asked during one of the vendor’s presentations.
Renlund said in the report that she observed “no inappropriate bias, conscious or subconscious,” but the woman was removed “out of an abundance of caution to ensure the integrity of the selection process.”
Skyward said in its protest it was wrong to remove that person and that doing so skewed the final scores toward Infinite Campus.
Eric Creighton, the CEO of Infinite Campus, said his company believed the state’s process was “fair, open and transparent.”
“We are confident the decision of the evaluators will be upheld,” Creighton said. He stood by the Infinite Campus bid as being cheaper and superior to Skyward’s.
The new data tracking system is designed to make it easier for DPI to track information and for districts to collect and share information about students, including academic performance and demographic information.
Moving to a single statewide system is expected to save local school districts millions of dollars as they no longer have to run their own systems to track everything from students’ grades to their health records.
Three Democrats and one Republican in the state Legislature this week introduced a bill that would allow for more than one company to provide the service to schools, meaning Skyward could continue to operate in Wisconsin.
Having a single system, instead of multiple vendors, was a decision approved by the Legislature’s Republican-controlled budget committee in 2011, despite concerns then that such a move could put Skyward at a disadvantage.
Walker’s economic development agency in March offered Skyward $12 million in tax breaks contingent upon it winning the contract. That offer was rescinded a day before bids were due in June under concerns that it was inappropriate.
Infinite Campus currently provides software to about 10 percent of Wisconsin districts. The company says on its website that it provides statewide data-management software for five other states and has contracts with individual districts in 43 states.