PONDERAY — Lake Pend Oreille School District joined about 60 other school districts and charter schools this week in agreeing to a settlement offer in a lawsuit brought forth by the Federal Communications Commission.
While the district was named as a claimant in the lawsuit, LPOSD Superintendent Shawn Woodward assured trustees that it would not cost the district anything, because the state is responsible for the former Idaho Education Network. IEN was formed during the tenure of former Idaho superintendent of public instruction Tom Luna provide greater connectivity of all Idaho high schools through broadband.
“What they were intending to do, I thought, was very good for sure, but it has not worked out so well, so that is what this settlement is all about,” Woodward said. “The problem was that, the contract for the Idaho Education Network went to two politically connected vendors in our state and there was some violation of the competitive bidding process.”
Syringa Networks was cut out of the $60 million contract, Woodward said, and filed a lawsuit against the state of Idaho, Centurylink and Education Networks of America. The move was determined to be illegal and the IEN contract was declared null and void in state court.
Following that ruling, Woodward said LPOSD, as well as all the other school districts in Idaho, were able to contract their own broadband services.
“It saved all the school districts millions of dollars across the state,” Woodward said.
Also after the contract was declared null and void, all school districts or charter schools that filed for E-Rate dollars between 2009 and 2014 were named in the lawsuit brought forth by the FCC. The Schools and Libraries Program, commonly known as E-Rate, provides discounts of up to 90 percent to help eligible schools and libraries in the United States obtain affordable telecommunications and internet access. The program is intended to ensure that schools and libraries have access to affordable telecommunications and information services, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The E-rate program is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company under the direction of the FCC.
“The state has been working on this for a long time, and the lawyers for the state of Idaho happen to be Anderson, Julian and Hull — that’s our law firm,” Woodward said. “They have reached a settlement with the FCC … From our standpoint, the terms are very straightforward. There is not a lot of impact to it.”
First, the state would agree to pay the FCC $3.5 million, which Woodward said he recently read the money will come from the “Legislative legal defense fund.”
“Idaho has about $8 million in that fund because they knew this was coming,” Woodward said.
The second term would be that Idaho and the school districts agree to withdraw and cancel all funding requests related to those funding years, 2009 to 2014, which he said LPOSD has nothing outstanding. The FCC would release Idaho and the school districts from any further liability, Woodward said.
Idaho and the school districts would agree to follow all E-Rate rules and regulations, which Woodward said LPOSD does. The district, he said, utilizes a consultant by the name of Funds for Learning to ensure LPOSD follows those rules and regulations of the E-Rate program.
Idaho and the school districts would also agree to immediately notify the FCC and USAC if they have failed to comply with any E-Rate rules and requirements for a period of two years, and each party would be responsible for their own legal costs.
“For us, there were none,” Woodward said. “This did not cost us any money.”
So far, Woodward said he believes 60 of 64 school districts have agreed to the settlement and the remaining have it scheduled on their agendas.
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