The Idaho Education Network mess goes from SNAFU to FUBAR

The Idaho Education Network mess goes from SNAFU to FUBAR


Your Crony Government Hard at Work Costing You Money

Credit my brothers for introducing me to military jargon. SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR are said to date from the 1940’s and while crude expressions, these do a better job of summing up a situation than any essay on the subject.

I think the terms fit well with Idaho’s current legal mess surrounding the Idaho Education Network. To understand how we got into this morass, a bit of history is needed.

Let’s go there.

In 2008, the Idaho Legislature gave birth to the Idaho Education network (IEN). Syringa Networks entered into an agreement with Education Networks of America (ENA) and submitted a proposal to the Department of Administration headed by Mike Gwartney. Also submitting proposals were Verizon and Qwest (now Centurylink). The contracts were awarded to Qwest for the IEN network services and to ENA to be the service provider. In 2009 Syringa filed a lawsuit.

The lawsuit slowly made its way through the courts and on March 29, 2013, the Idaho Supreme Court issued a ruling to allow Syringa networks to pursue its 2009 lawsuit against the Department of Administration. At the time Idaho Business Review reported the court stated that Department of Administration’s former head (Gwartney was replaced by Teresa Luna) apparently tinkered with bidding to help the state’s biggest phone company win a share of a $60 million dollar deal.

Filing a lawsuit attracted the attention of the FCC which administers the E-rate moneys. With a lawsuit in the hopper, the federal government proceeded to block funding to the broadband system because there was question about who should receive the cash.

Moving from 2013 to 2014 and we have the Idaho Legislature in session. Teresa Luna who is now head of the Department of Administration is being asked about the $14 million problem. The “problem” is that the E-rate funding the state expected is no longer coming in. As reported in Idaho Education News in July of 2013 ENA alerted the state it stopped receiving payment in March and it’s now January 2014.

By now even the legislators are thinking SNAFU and want to move cautiously even through Tom Luna tries to assure them this is only a temporary bump in the broadband road.

But there’s more! Not only has ENA not been paid and the legislators in the dark, Mr. Luna in June 2013 awarded another ENA contract for Wi-Fi. It’s a multiyear contract and Idaho Education News raises questions on political ties .

Political ties aren’t the only questions out there. One also has to wonder about the connection between the Albertson Foundation and IEN as the 990 form for 2009 reports one donation of $3 million for the Idaho Education Network under the category charter school. Another total of $3 million is reported for 2011 and 2012 for the Idaho Education Network. That’s $6 million.

Back to 2014. The legislature realizes there is a problem and it’s early enough for school districts to bail and apply for the E-rate on their own. Cut your losses and run seems to make sense.

It doesn’t happen. The mess festers for another year and by January 2015 the governor has another education advisor tapped just for the job of fixing the IEN mess. Again a gloomy message issues forth. Schools may go dark and Idaho’s children will be even laster than last. Something must be done!

But before the legislators can pick up the red phone, some information comes to light. Maybe the lack of IEN isn’t such a catastrophe after all. The Spokesman Review reports that the Idaho Education Network isn’t used to the extent predicted.

It now seems there was an artificial need created, public funding obtained, private pockets filled with cash and tax payers as collateral damage. Throw in an illegal contract and Teresa and Tom Luna’s activities, and the Idaho Legislature and we have now reached the TARFU stage!

What could have been done in January 2014? A couple of things should have happened. 1- Is that the attorney general’s office should have become involved in finding an exit strategy as it is common knowledge that you don’t continue to pay on an illegal contract…that is why the feds stopped. 2-In the spirit of asking for forgiveness rather than permission, the legislature could have paid until the end of school in late May/June. That would have allowed districts to file for their own E-rate.

By 2015 districts are on their own. And surprise, surprise! Local control seems to be working as districts are finding cheaper rates. Of course that does not stop Governor Otter from pursuing a state managed system.

Now it’s the fall of 2016 and the good news is that local districts have demonstrated the ability to obtain their own broadband services and at lower cost. But it doesn’t end here. Now we find that local districts are named in a lawsuit filed by ENA. According to this latest report in Idaho Education News ENA claims that 37 school districts and charter schools received services without paying for them. The lawsuit was filed August 19, 2016 and school districts are listed by name.

At a time when almost every school district in Idaho has to go to the patrons to request additional money to keep the lights on and the water running, the very last thing the taxpayers need is to be held accountable for the actions of corrupt and bumbling state officials. It is past the time for the FBI to investigate. Elections are in November and it is past the time for the voters to hold people accountable. Yes, we have reached the FUBAR stage and it is time to clean house!