Otter rips state education board, lawmaker over contract
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Gov. Butch Otter sent stern letters to the State Board of Education and state Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, scolding them for interfering with a state contract for computer software.
The Idaho Legislature's Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, on which Horman serves, allocated $1 million in 2017 for a teacher evaluation program. Otter had requested $2.5 million.
The state's purchasing department put out a request for proposals and selected a provider from among eight companies that responded.
But the State Board of Education's preferred vendor was not awarded the contract, according to Otter's Nov. 1 letters to Horman, Idaho State Board of Education President Linda Clark and other board members. State Board Executive Director Matt Freeman, after a conversation with Horman, asked the purchasing division to cancel the proposal request, Otter said.
"Despite the fact your preferred vendor was not the successful bidder, and that your executive director requested the RFP (request for proposal) be canceled, I am directing you and your staff to award the contract and move forward," Otter wrote. "Beyond the legal requirement to award the contract to the successful bidder and potential litigation from cancellation of the RFP, this is important on assuring that there is state-level administration and oversight of the teacher evaluation process."
In an email sent to news organizations on Thursday, Horman vigorously denied Otter's claims and said, "This appears to be the Executive branch seeking retribution on legislators who do their job."
Horman wrote that the email record proves she never suggested that the State Board of Education or Division of Purchasing that they issue a contract to a specific vendor, but rather suggested sending the money directly to districts so they could choose vendors locally, so long as the vendors complied with the specifications set by the board.
Idaho State Board of Education spokesman Mike Keckler said the agency has done nothing wrong.
"The State Board of Education staff fully complied with State Division of Purchasing statutes and processes," Keckler said in a statement Wednesday. "There was absolutely no intent nor any attempts to circumvent state purchasing law. The State Board is committed to obtaining a software solution to facilitate both the submission and review of teacher evaluations, which is required under state law."
The Idaho Department of Administration's records show that seven bids were received, and the contract was awarded to the lowest and most responsive bidder, Frontline, for $490,000 over two years. Another firm, Silverback, which some Idaho school districts already had been using, bid $1.7 million.
"Silverback was the preferred choice of some school districts because they had been using that contractor," state Department of Administration Director Bob Geddes said.
Horman said Otter's letter came "completely out of the blue," and said, "Neither (Otter) nor any of his staff members ever talked to me about this. I will vigorously dispute these allegations."
The state board's statement said Freeman signed off on the request for proposals on Oct. 23, 2018, at the direction of the governor's office.
This story has been corrected to show that Horman was talking about Otter, not Freeman, when she said Otter's letter came as a surprise in the penultimate paragraph.