Delay to tech effort ends

Contract dispute set schools back a year in installing computers

Deal worth $25 million

Library research, Net access, use with curricula among goals

April 16, 2001|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

The 30 new computers were expected last summer, so Principal Kevin Dennehy's staff excitedly dismantled its increasingly dated lab to make room for the machines.

"[The lab] is empty this year," said Dennehy, who runs George Fox Middle School in Pasadena.

The computers never arrived at George Fox, or at any of Anne Arundel County's 31 middle and high schools.

Legal wrangling over which company deserved a $25 million, three-year contract to lease more than 12,000 computers to the school district has put the project, called "Technology Refresh," a year behind schedule.

Officials had hoped to get computers into classrooms by the end of this month, but because of standardized testing, final exams and other end-of-the-year activities, they decided to postpone installation until the summer to avoid disturbing schools during the crunch time. Some school offices, however, are scheduled to get the first machines April 23. The contracts have been signed and delivery dates set, officials said.

"We're not actually putting the instructional machines in the schools because it would be a disruption at this point in the school year," said Joan Donovan, director of information and technology services for the school district. "They just felt that [summer] was the best time to receive them."

Many schools, like George Fox, dismantled computer labs with the expectation that 4,300 computers were on the way last summer. They were left without computers all year. Some schools planned to use the computers as library research tools with Internet access. Others intended to incorporate them into the curriculum, particularly the new technology-heavy components of the Earth and Space Science course and other courses that will soon be tested as a requirement for graduation.

At Southern Middle School in Lothian, the 20 or so computers scheduled to be delivered will be used to fill one of two computer labs at the 600-pupil school. But school officials haven't gone out of their way to make room.

"We started hearing about this two years ago," Principal William J. Callaghan said. "I've been at this too long. I don't tear anything down until I have something in my office.

"It's an irritation, but it's not anything we couldn't deal with."

The lease program allows schools to receive updated computers every three years.

The computer contract dispute began in June when ISmart, the Elkridge-based company that submitted the low bid of $23.8 million for Technology Refresh, challenged the awarding of the job to GTSI Corp. of Chantilly, Va., whose bid was $1.2 million higher. ISmart's complaint prompted the county school board to order the contract rebid -- over the objections of school system staff who had recommended awarding it to GTSI.

The state Board of Education weighed in, siding with the local board.

In January, the county school board ended the quarrel by picking a third vendor -- Daly Computers of Clarksburg -- without reopening the bid process. Board members instead piggybacked their order on a University of Maryland contract.

"We were able to cope," Harry Calender, principal of Chesapeake High School in Pasadena, said of the past year. But in those courses that were counting on the new technology, "it did make a difference."

His school is supposed to be among the first to get shipments in June, after the year ends. The computers are needed for summer school. Confident that this time it will happen, Calender said, staff will take down the labs and shift computers around the school in the next few weeks to make room.

"I feel pretty good about it," he said. "I don't see that we're going to lose them now."

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