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School board rejects lowest cost proposal to stick with CNS

The Grady County Board of Education voted Monday night to reject the lowest cost proposal for Internet and Data service and accept what school officials believe to be the best proposal.
School officials solicited proposals from current provider CNS as well as Windstream, AT&T and US Telecom. AT&T and US Telecom did not submit proposals.
During a called meeting Monday night, Superintendent Dr. Tommy Pharis presented members of the school board copies of Director of Technology Chris Guest’s comparison worksheet and recommendation.
Guest considered proposals made by CNS and Windstream, and he has been working with the two prospective vendors on the proposals for the last three to four months.
Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton said he got involved in the process in December of last year.
School officials say the original proposal from CNS for the new five-year contract was approximately $370,000, compared to the current rate of $500,400.
The bulk of the money to finance Internet and Data service for the local schools comes from the federal government as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which was the first comprehensive revision of the country’s communications laws in more than 60 years.
Under this act, a universal service fee is required to be contributed to the Federal Communications Commission based on a percentage of their interstate and international end-user telecommunications revenues.
This includes wireline and wireless phone companies, paging service companies and certain Voice over Internet Protocol providers.
Some companies bill subscribers directly on their monthly bill for the universal service fee.
Fees are designed to help schools and libraries obtain access to state-of-the-art services and technologies at discounted rates. Dr. Pharis says the percentage of e-rate funding the local school system receives is based on the number of students who are eligible for free or reduced priced school lunches.
According to city of Cairo financial statements, the city-owned cable and Internet service budgeted to receive $373,832 in e-rate funding for the 2009-2010 fiscal year. The city also budgeted to receive $133,768 from the Grady County School System, which is slightly more than the $114,717 the school system has budgeted to pay out of local funds to CNS.
According to Dr. Pharis, the system does not yet know what its e-rate funding will be for fiscal year 2010-2011, but estimates it to be 81 or 82 percent of the total cost for Internet and Data service.
Windstream’s original proposal to Guest was approximately $150,000, but after further review of the specifications for service sought by the school system, Windstream’s revised bid came in at $194,400, compared to a final proposal of $291,600 from CNS.
“Five years ago, there really wasn’t any competition and we could command higher rates. It is a natural progression of the market and we have to lower our rates to be competitive,” Addleton said.
“We reduced our rates to where we need to be to be competitive based on the school system’s criteria. I believe a big part of the school board’s decision was based on the quality service and quick response time we are able to offer. I think they made a good decision,”  Addleton added.
Addleton says the city’s 2010-2011 operating budget will reflect the $208,800 drop in CNS telecom revenue.
School officials are sticking with CNS because of the service offered and quick response to correct technical difficulties.
“When we call, they respond within an hour and address our problem. We have to call them often,” Dr. Pharis said.
The school superintendent says with Windstream there is no specific contact person like with CNS and the schools would be served by a national call center.
“The question is whether or not $16,000 more is too much to pay for consistent, reliable data service for our schools, which is so critical. My answer is no, it’s not too much to pay for the service we receive from CNS,” Dr. Pharis said.
Director of Technology Guest rated the two providers based on price, experience, understanding of system needs, personnel and performance. He rated CNS and Windstream equal as far as understanding of system needs and rated Windstream higher in regards to price, but rated CNS higher than Windstream on experience, personnel and performance.
“We have been very, very satisfied with CNS,” Dr. Pharis told board members Monday night.
Pharis said the level of response time to problems by Windstream is an important issue to Guest.
“With CNS, we have a direct contact person and any time Chris calls, we are the top priority,” the superintendent said.
Dr. Pharis says that CNS also contacts Guest if they anticipate a problem or know of a potential problem in order to prevent service outages.
There was little discussion of the matter during the called meeting Monday, which was primarily focused on the school finances.
Board Chairman Drew Pyrz says the board relied on the experience and knowledge of the system’s director of technology.
“There was some concern that a transition to Windstream from CNS would not be flawless, and our technology specialist recommended staying with CNS. That’s what the board went with,” Chairman Pyrz said.
The vote to authorize the superintendent to execute the five-year deal with CNS was approved on a 4-0-1 vote, with board member Joe Porter abstaining due to a conflict of interest.

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