Contract for Bilingual-Education Center Awarded

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The National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, which has provided limited services since March, will reopen Oct. 1 under new management.

After several delays-and complaints from the bilingual-education community-the Education Department has awarded a three-year, $2.7-million contract to the COMSIS Corporation of Wheaton, Md.

But the clearinghouse remains a focus of contention, as two losing bidders have filed protests, alleging irregularities in the award process.

The new contractor, while employing a smaller professional staff than before, will feature "more services because of new [computer) technology," according to Edward J . Fuentes, director of research and evaluation in the E.O.'S office of bilingual education and minority languages affairs.

Also, the operation will be "more focused on the needs of practitioners," he said. Without charge, teachers, administrators, and others in the field will be able to search a computerized data base for practical advice on bilingual instruction, to use a computer to retrieve articles, and to exchange curriculum materials With colleagues. Hard copies of research materials will be provided at cost.

Previously, practitioners were discouraged from using the clearinghouse data base by $30-an-hour line charges, Mr. Fuentes said.

Overall, the operation will be more "classroom-focused," said Ronald E. Saunders, manager of COMSIS education programs. "More users will be able to get more information."

COMSIS also plans to revive three types of clearinghouse publications: a newsletter on developments in bilingual education, occasional papers highlighting debates in the field, and monographs on such specialized issues as bilingual special education.

But James J. Lyons, legislative counsel of the National Association for Bilingual Education, questioned whether the clearinghouse can provide adequate services with its annual budget reduced from $1.5 million in 1985 to $950,000 and its staff from 38 to between 8 and 10 under the agreement with COMSIS.

Mr. Lyons also criticized the department for missing deadlines in awarding a contract after OSEMLA'S agreement with Interamerica Research Associates expired in March.

Fairness Challenged

Protests were filed last week with the General Accounting Office, alleging that the OSEMLA violated federal procurement regulations in awarding the contract.

One was filed by George Washington University; the other by Forecasting International, a potential subcontractor whose challenge was disqualified because it had not directly bid on the project.

Barbara Soriano, a Forecasting International representative, alleged that the department unfairly provided different information to different bidders. And she charged discrimination by OBEMLA, which, she said, "wants to get rid of everyone connected with bilingual education before their regime. COMSIS is new."

Ms. Soriano is the wife of Jesse Soriano, the former director of OBEMLA who was asked to resign by Secretary of Education William J. Bennett in 1985.

Interamerica, which ran the clearinghouse from 1978 until this year, also bid on the contract unsuccessfully, but has not filed a protest.

Juan Gutierrez, the firm's chairman, has asked the department to justify its decision, however. "We are somewhat concerned and confused," he said, because co t and technical capacity were to be weighted equally.

Interamerica ran the clearinghouse effectively for eight years, he said, and submitted a bid about $200,000 lower than that of COMSIS.

Mr. Fuentes said he "wouldn't want to comment" on the protests other than to say: "Everybody was given the same opportunity and the same information." He added that "the government is getting a better deal than before."

The new address for the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education is 11501 Georgia Ave., Wheaton, Md. 20902, and it will retain the current toll-free number, (800) 647- 0123.

Vol. 06, Issue 03, Pages 13, 16

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