Computer company appealing schools' upgrade selection

Low-bidding firm lost to a superior rival, county says

June 08, 2000|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

An Elkridge company that submitted the lowest bid to provide thousands of computers to county schools is alleging that school officials acted improperly in recommending that the contract- worth more than $20 million- go to another firm.

A committee that evaluated the bidders recommended to the Board of Education in April that the Virginia firm GTSI Inc. - whose bid came in at $25 million-should be awarded the contract. But ISmart, which submitted the low bid of $23.8 million, maintains that it should receive the contract because of the $1.18 million difference.

ISmart appealed the committee's selection to the school board, which heard arguments on the dispute at its meeting yesterday.

School system officials say that the selection committee evaluated bidders on technical factors, as well as pricing - and that in rating the bidders, the technical score was weighted more heavily than the price tag.

The county school system received 15 responses to its request for proposals in February, and the selection committee trimmed the number to five finalists including GTSI and ISmart. The contract calls for 12,000 computers to be provided over a three-year period - the first term of the contract. A renewal option calls for 12,000 more computers by April 2006.

The initiative, called the "Technology Refresh" project, is part of the school system's effort to upgrade computers in all schools.

Another of the finalists was rejected for incorrect preparation of the bid worksheet. The others submitted bids of $26.1 million and $32.7 million.

Christopher Heffernan, an attorney for ISmart, told the board yesterday that under state law, school officials must award the contract to the "lowest responsible bidder."

He also said that GTSI's bid was "non-responsive" because it did not include a weekly schedule for installing the computers.

Heffernan said that "each year [of the contract] the school board will pay $131,000 more if they go with GTSI."

Darren Burns, attorney for the school system staff, said that the request for proposals made it clear that price wasn't the only consideration in the bidder selection.

Other factors, he said, included the bidder's ability to provide related services, including project management, technical support and training, transfer of data from existing computers and equipment testing, he said.

"This project is not just about the procurement of equipment," Burns wrote late last month in a response to ISmart's appeal. "Rather, it is fundamentally about securing the school system's ability to install, service and utilize thousands of computers in numerous applications throughout the system."

Burns also wrote that "ISmart knew full well that this was not a low-bid contract" but had not raised an objection throughout the evaluation process.

The board is expected to rule on the appeal today.

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