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Broadband snafu could cost school districts nearly $2 million

School supplies on a desk at Boise High School. File photo.

School supplies on a desk at Boise High School. File photo.

Idaho school districts could be out close to $2 million, as a result of the latest Idaho Education Network budget snafu.

Fifty-seven school districts and charter schools could stand to lose out on “e-Rate” money — federally administered dollars collected from landline and cell phone bills. The districts were counting on the e-Rate dollars to cover a share of their technology costs on purchases dating back to 2013 and 2014.

However, the Universal Service Administrative Company has written letters to the schools, saying they intend to deny payments, according to Idaho EdNews. And that decision ties back to the contract for the ill-fated Idaho Education Network, a statewide high school broadband system. Courts have thrown out the network’s $60 million contract.

This means the state did not have a valid agreement allowing the state to collect e-Rate dollars to cover the bulk of Idaho Education Network costs. Citing the flaws in the network contract, and the lack of a legal mechanism to receive e-Rate dollars — USAC turned down the districts’ funding requests as well.

These funding requests appear to cover deals the districts made independently with Education Networks of America, the lead vendor on the Idaho Education Network project. The transactions in question involved services purchased in 2013 and 2014 from ENA — and appeared to be beyond the scope of the Idaho Education Network broadband project itself.

The potential impacts vary widely from district to district, according to documents obtained May 10 by Idaho Education News. In the Pocatello School District, more than $347,000 of payments are in limbo. Five other districts — American Falls, Emmett, Fremont County, Mountain View and West Bonner County — each sought more than $100,000 in e-Rate payments. On the other end of the spectrum, Central Idaho’s tiny Camas County School District applied for only $467.

The cost figures were compiled by ENA, and released May 10 by the State Department of Education.

State officials have said little about this latest chapter in the Idaho Education Network budget debacle.

Since last week, Idaho Education News has sent repeated inquiries to Ybarra’s State Department of Education — seeking details about the scope of the funding problem. Until May 10, the department had said nothing.

“I am still awaiting guidance,” Ybarra spokesman Jeff Church said May 4.

Gov. Butch Otter’s office has also said nothing. “We are still trying to get more information from the federal agency,” spokesman Jon Hanian said the week of May 2.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has declined comment, citing attorney-client privilege. The Department of Administration — the agency that oversaw the failed Idaho Education Network project — has also declined comment.

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