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Vote nears on school computers


Two computer companies that have spent much of the past year jockeying for an Anne Arundel County school board contract worth up to $25 million over three years are being left out of the county's technology plans.

Instead, the school board is expected to vote today to award the contract to a third company, Daly Computers of Clarksburg, and to get about 4,000 new computers into classrooms before the end of the school year.

"I'm holding my breath," Robert C. Leib, director of business and government services for the school system, said yesterday. "It's been a long process."

Going with Daly Computers - by piggybacking on its contract for Compaqs signed this year with the University of Maryland - will cost Anne Arundel County $2.67 million in the first year.

Had the computers been leased during the summer, the county would have saved money. ISmart, based in Elkridge, was the low bidder, at $2.38 million, and GTSI of Virginia, which was originally awarded the contract, would have charged $2.51 million. But the computer market has changed since then, and interest rates have gone up, said Purchasing Officer Deborah Groat.

Anne Arundel County began the bidding process a year ago for its Technology Refresh program, an initiative to install linked computer laboratories in each school. The project calls for 12,000 new computers to be leased to county schools over a three-year period, with the equipment recycled every three years to keep it up to date.

The goal was to have an average of one computer for every six students by 2003. On average, schools in Anne Arundel County now have nine students per computer.

Bid protests got in the way. GTSI was awarded the contract in April, based on its service record, even though it was not the low bidder. In July, officials of ISmart, the low bidder, asked the school board to reverse itself, saying ISmart should have received the contract based on the best price.

Board members sided with ISmart, saying they would throw out the first bids and start again. GTSI appealed to the State Board of Education, which sided with the board and said GTSI had no case.

Rebidding would have given both companies a new shot at the contract, but neither will have the opportunity.

"It's certainly legal and appropriate" to use the University of Maryland contract and bypass GTSI and ISmart, said P. Tyson Bennett, the school board's attorney. "I don't think that there would be any legal cause of action either one of them would have."

Yesterday, ISmart general counsel Marc A. Ominksy said he couldn't comment because he didn't know anything about Anne Arundel County's plans. A GTSI spokeswoman declined to comment.

Daly was one of the finalists during the original bidding, losing out to the other two based on price and service. The company also will install and service the computers.

The board's final approval is still required, but that is likely. Members discussed the matter at length during a Dec. 6 closed-door session.

Leib said he expects 8,000 computers to be in the schools by the end of the 2001-2002 school year. Schools with the greatest need will get the first shipments.

Some schools had been counting on the new equipment to enable them to offer more advanced science courses. North County High School dismantled its computer lab in the spring to prepare for 90 new machines that have not arrived.

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