Broadband Bailout Bill Saves Idaho Schools

The measure allows school districts to negotiate their own broadband contracts for the rest of this school year to replace the Idaho Education Network system.

by Shanon Quinn, Moscow-Pullman Daily News / February 27, 2015

(Tribune News Service) -- Rural Idaho schools breathed a sigh of relief this week after Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter signed into law a bill approving $3.64 million in emergency funding for the state's broadband program through the end of the 2014-15 school year.

The measure allows school districts to negotiate their own broadband contracts for the rest of this school year to replace the Idaho Education Network system. A Nov. 10 ruling by 4th District Court Judge Patrick Owen voided the state's $60 million broadband contract with IEN and created the potential loss of broadband access to nearly 200 public high schools throughout Idaho.

Although many schools have already started searching for alternative service providers, the temporary reprieve decreases chances students will miss learning opportunities to take part in distance courses through other districts, Troy School District Superintendent Christie Castro said.

"Video conferencing with other schools is a big deal for us," she said.

Castro said rural schools are more likely to lean on the technology than their more urban counterparts due to a smaller teaching staff.

Troy isn't the only area school that has been in a form of limbo since the ruling.

The Genesee School District makes use of the IEN connection to provide classes to a total of 17 students in Potlatch, Kendrick and Troy, and it also uses it to assist entities like the local police department and the school board with online training.

GSD Superintendent Wendy Moore said having IEN keeps those individuals from having to travel long distances for meetings, training sessions or other events.

While the voiding of IEN's contract put schools on the spot, forcing them to search for new providers in a short time frame, the extension allows them to have some choice in the matter.

Both local schools are in the bidding process with alternate providers but have yet to decide whether to switch immediately or use IEN until the end of the academic year.

"We have two considerations right now," Castro said. "Do we continue with IEN or do we switch over to one of our providers?"

Castro said the Troy School District has submitted a request for bids from alternative service providers and is currently in the final stages of dealing with the issue.

©2015 the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, Idaho) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC