Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — Knowledge Network Solutions has petitioned the Office of Administrative Hearings to review the award of a $27 million contract to improve students’ reading that the Department of Public Instruction awarded to a rival firm. The rival firm is Voyager Expanded Learning of Dallas, which has former Gov. Jim Hunt on its board of directors.
Knowledge Network claims that DPI first accepted its team’s bid of $17.8 million, but rejected the bid and awarded it to competitor Voyager Expanded Learning, which had put in a bid of $26.9 million.
Knowledge Network Solutions of Raleigh is part of a team involving IBM, and a company called Best Practice Networks. Knowledge Network CEO Jon Beard hired Raleigh lawyer Dan Boyce to represent his company and file the petition. Beard wants the contract award to be reversed or put out for bid again. Boyce expects the respondents to file objections and try to avoid a hearing.
The petition alleges that June Atkinson, then director of Instructional Services, who was responsible for evaluation of the bid, eliminated the Best Practice team based on erroneous information. Atkinson has resigned from DPI and is the Democrat nominee for state superintendent of public instruction.
The petitioner also claims that the award process was flawed because the award was supposed to go through the Board of Award Approval for all information technology purchases of more than $100,000. The petition alleges that the board would have noticed the $9 million difference, seen specifically what Atkinson had objected to, and given Best Practices an opportunity to clear up any misinformation.
The petition names State Superintendent Patricia Willoughby, Attorney General Roy Cooper, and Chief Information Technology Procurement Officer Patricia Bowers as respondents.
June Atkinson told Carolina Journal that the state’s request for proposal required 80 hours of online instruction for teachers in how to teach reading and that the Best Practices team bid did not meet that requirement.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that more children receive effective reading instruction in the early grades. North Carolina is scheduled to receive $153.9 million over the next six years to ensure that all children learn to read well by the end of the third grade. In North Carolina the goal is to be accomplished by applying a scientifically based reading research to reading instruction in all state schools. To accomplish this, extensive teacher training in the reading program will be required. DPI decided to request proposals for an on-line professional development program specifically designed for the North Carolina Reading First initiative.
DPI had set aside $29 million for the project. The request for bids was issued Sept 9, 2003 and submissions were due by Oct. 4, 2003. The Best Practices team and Voyager submitted the only two bids. Finalists for the bid were to be selected by Nov. 14, 2003 and negotiations, oral presentations, and product demonstrations were to be completed by Nov. 25. The bid award was to be made Dec. 3, but no decision was made and the Statewide Information Technology Office extended the award date until Feb. 21, 2004.
On Jan. 16 the Best Practices team received a letter stating, “It appears that Best Practices Networks will be the vendor for a contract resulting from this RFP” (request for proposal). But on Feb. 19 the award date was extended again until March 31.
A request for a best and final offer was received by the Best Practices team March 31 and was due back April 7, 2004. Since the team had already been notified that it had won the contract, Beard claims the request was “quite confusing and alarming.” On April 14, 2004 a bid award was made to the competitor Voyager.
Boyce has also sent a letters to Gov. Mike Easley, State Auditor Ralph Campbell, Attorney General Roy Cooper, and U.S. Attorney Frank Whitney asking each of them to review the matter.
Don Carrington is associate publisher of Carolina Journal.