Editorial: Did State Superintendent Evers Blow His Chance at Reelection?
By Brandi Makuski
In December of last year I received a news release from the “Tony Evers 2013” campaign. For those who don’t know, Dr. Evers is Superintendent of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI). In other words, he runs the public school system throughout the state, and he’s up for reelection on April 2.
Evers is also responsible for implementing the “single vendor option” for student information systems, which forces all 440 school districts to use the same company, instead of allowing healthy and fair competition to determine need in the market. It’s just one of countless initiatives designed to restrict otherwise local control that Evers has employed since being elected in 2009.
According to the news release, the School Administrators Alliance (SAA), which “represents more than 3,000 public school principals, special education directors, business officials and superintendents throughout Wisconsin”, announced its endorsement of Evers for his 2013 run.
This endorsement came just weeks before the DPI announced it was dropping Stevens Point- based Skyward in favor of Minnesota- based Infinite Campus as the vendor for the statewide student information system- a computer system that manages student and financial information from a single database used by parents, teachers and administrators.
I wonder how many of those 3,000 principals and other administrators have a spouse, sibling, friend or neighbor either employed by Skyward or a child enrolled in a school using Skyward as it’s vendor.
Each of seven potential vendors, including Skyward, was graded in several different areas including ease of use, availability of information and cost. Infinite Campus beat out Skyward, according to the DOA’s Grand Master Summary, by 887 points in cost and 1445 points in technical score.
The factors relating to how each area was scored, or how the total number of points were determined, has not been made available; instead of making each area a total possible “100%”, the possible total score for each area ranges from 210 to 1596 and makes no logical sense.
In an interview with the City-Times, Skyward officials claim the process was changed “at the eleventh hour” but would not elaborate because the company’s challenge on the decision was pending.
For argument’s sake, let’s say the process was indeed objective and Infinite truly did beat out Skyward in these areas, true and fair. Any shortcomings by Skyward could undoubtedly be improved upon to reflect what the state is looking for in a vendor- why would the company not have been given that opportunity to meet a set of state standards since the single vendor option was chosen by the DPI?
Any cost- savings state officials claim by using Infinite would be dwarfed by the cost to our community. We’re talking about 300 employees who could potentially pull up stakes and either move with Skyward- as the company has stated it would do if the decision isn’t reversed- or simply move elsewhere in search of other comparable employment.
That’s 300 families- likely over 1,000 people currently living in and around Stevens Point. 1,000 people no longer contributing to the local economy- no longer buying apples from the Farmer’s Market, no longer purchasing cars from Scaffidi and no longer contributing to the tax base which pays the salaries of our mayor, our school board and our governor.
300 families could potentially pull children from our schools; 300 homes could potentially go up for sale all at once.
It’s a problem because it was Evers’ idea to switch to a single- vendor for the student information system, despite massive outcry from the public and school officials throughout the state. It removed any sense of fair market competition and many thought the move to a single vendor was needless and unwarranted.
A so- called “open, fair, impartial and objective” review of the process was performed by DeWitt, Ross & Stevens Law Firm; the same Madison law firm which was also hired by the state teacher’s union to represent 22 local retirees as they threatened to sue the Stevens Point school district claiming breach of contract over benefits last year. That’s the same union that contributed nearly $600k to Evers’ first campaign for the superintendent seat in 2009.
The SAA has not reversed its decision to continue endorsing Evers, despite massive outcry over the Skyward decision from officials throughout the state, including our own State Senator Julie Lassa, State Assembly Representative Katrina Shankland, Portage County Executive Patty Dreier and Mayor Andrew Halverson- not to mention the 300 employees this decision directly affects.
You have to admit, however, no other event in recent history has so united our community across the boundaries of political divisiveness. It’s likely the only good that we’ll see come from this decision. At least until Election Day- when Dr. Evers could potentially learn just what Wisconsinites think about his single vendor option.