Firm wants competitor's bid rejected; Computer suppliers squabbling over contract for schools; $20 million project; Lowest bidder says company trying to 'ambush' board


ISmart, the Elkridge company that persuaded the Anne Arundel board of education to rebid a major computer contract with the school system, wants the board to dismiss the contract winner's request to uphold the contract.

The low bidder for the multiyear contract worth more than $20 million argues that GTSI - the school system's first choice - is trying to "ambush" the board and ISmart, and that it doesn't have standing to demand a reconsideration.

ISmart's request, filed Monday with the board, is the latest legal maneuver in a dispute over a contract to provide thousands of computers to county schools as part of the "Technology Refresh" program to upgrade technological capabilities throughout the school system.

P. Tyson Bennett, the board's attorney, said the board refused GTSI's request to argue its case at yesterday's board meeting, to give other parties involved in the matter-the county schools superintendent and ISmart- time to respond in writing to the reconsideration filed June 15.

He said the board won't rule on whether to permit GTSI to make an oral argument until its next scheduled meeting July 12.

The dispute began two weeks ago when the board ordered school officials to repeat the bidding process after hearing arguments from ISmart. The company contended it should have gotten the job because it submitted the lowest contract bid of $23.8 million, while GTSI's came in at $25 million.

The contract calls for the school system to lease 12,000 computers over a three-year period, with the understanding that the equipment be replaced every three years.

Virginia-based GTSI dismissed ISmart's low-bid argument in its reconsideration request. The company maintained that bidders were evaluated in several areas, and technical expertise was weighted more heavily than cost. In Monday's filing, ISmart accuses GTSI of withholding information, including an agreement signed May 4 with the school system to provide the first delivery of 4,000 computers this summer.

"The request [for reconsideration] is a transparent attempt by GTSI to wrongfully insert ... new facts and issues into the record," ISmart's filing states. "The apparent motive is to manipulate the record in order to increase GTSI's chances on appeal to the state Board of Education."

In its reconsideration request, GTSI said it is prepared to appeal to the state board if the county school board elects to go ahead with a second bidding process.

ISmart alleges that GTSI lacks standing to ask for a reconsideration, because it failed to raise objections to ISmart's original March 20 protest of the bidding process and didn't participate in the company's appeal hearing June 7. For its part, GTSI alleged that ISmart never complained about the bidding procedures until after a review committee recommended that the contract go to GTSI.

"ISmart has played a game on Anne Arundel schools, and gotten access to GTSI's proposal and numbers," GTSI argued in its reconsideration request.

The company also said that the board refused to consider written information submitted by GTSI or listen to its arguments at ISmart's appeal June 7.

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