School software provider files notice of protest over losing bid

Published 5:38 am Sunday, February 10, 2013

MADISON, Wis. — A Wisconsin-based school software provider filed notice with the state Friday that it intends to appeal after it lost a $15 million contract that was awarded to a Minnesota company, arguing that the process was flawed even though an independent reviewer found no problems.

Skyward Inc., of Stevens Point, said in a statement that it had filed the protest with Gov. Scott Walker’s administration, saying its bid was lower than that of the winner announced last week — Infinite Campus of Blaine. Skyward has threatened to leave Wisconsin if it loses the contract.

The process of soliciting and awarding the bid has been shrouded in controversy from the beginning. In March, Walker’s semi-private economic development agency offered nearly $12 million in tax breaks to Skyward contingent upon it winning the bid to provide student information systems to Wisconsin’s more than 440 school districts and non-district charter schools.

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The day before the bids were due in June, Walker’s administration said it was suspending the process because of concerns about the propriety of the offered tax breaks.

It then started the process over and hired an independent observer — former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle attorney Cari Anne Renlund — to monitor the process. Last week, when the bid was awarded to Infinite Campus, Walker’s administration released Renlund’s report that found no problems.

“The procurement, evaluation and selection processes were reasonably and appropriately geared to afford all vendors an equal opportunity to compete for this contract,” Renlund wrote. “There was no bias in favor or against any bidder.”

Walker’s administration said Infinite Campus had the highest scoring proposal based on several criteria, including having the highest technical score and the lowest cost. But Skyward contested that assessment on Friday.

The company said based on its analysis of the two proposals, that its bid was $2.6 million less per year. Skyward also said that implementation costs identified by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, which are the responsibility of each school district, were not considered in the evaluation.

Skyward currently serves more than half of Wisconsin’s schools. Switching to Infinite Campus would “place an additional and major implementation expense on 90 percent of Wisconsin school districts, and ultimately the Wisconsin taxpayer,” Skyward said in its release.

“We are confident that Skyward provides the greatest return for Wisconsin taxpayers compared to the selected, Minnesota-based vendor,” Skyward said.

Companies that submitted bids are allowed to review the proposals, but the proposals are not made available to the public until after a contract is signed.

Infinite Campus provides software currently to about 10 percent of Wisconsin districts. The company said on its website that it provides statewide data-management software for five other states and has contracts with individual districts in 43 states.

Eric Creighton, the chief executive officer of Infinite Campus, said Skyward offered no substance to back up its intended protest, and that no Infinite Campus executive made contributions to any candidate or party at any level in Wisconsin.

“We have reason to believe that the process was fair, transparent and open,” he said in a statement.

Skyward employs about 270 people statewide, with most of them at its Stevens Point headquarters. The company sells management software to track grades, attendance and other information for schools and serves 220 of Wisconsin’s 424 districts.

The tax breaks offered were to help Skyward with a planned $20 million expansion of its headquarters and the hiring of more than 600 workers, which has been thrown into question since it lost the bid.

Democratic lawmakers representing the Stevens Point area have decried Skyward’s loss of the bid, saying it will hurt the state’s economy and lead to job losses.

Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, on Thursday called the decision not to award the bid to Skyward “mind boggling.”

“Gov. Walker and his administration should be holding Skyward up as an example of a Wisconsin entrepreneurial success story, not blocking the company from selling one of its products in our state,” she said.

State Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, said the process should be subject to another independent review.

“People are saying this is just a sour grapes issue. It’s not,” Shankland said.

The new data tracking system was to be in place in some districts this year and be operating statewide within five years. It is designed to make it easier for the state Department of Public Instruction to track data, as districts could more easily collect and share information about students including their academic performance and demographic information, aggregated by school district, school and teacher.

Moving to a 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 student grades to their health records. School districts will be charged a per-pupil fee to use the statewide system.