You can trust education department’s procurement process

Sherri Ybarra

In response to the Lewiston Tribune’s recent article regarding the procurement practices in my office, I would like to provide some context and clarification about the State Department of Education’s contracting process.

The article correctly stated that, as one of seven constitutional officers, Idaho Code specifically excludes the superintendent of public instruction from the competitive bidding requirements in the state’s procurement act. Just as the director of the state’s Division of Purchasing, constitutional officers have discretion to award sole source contracts when that is the most feasible and best use of state resources.

Like the lawmakers quoted in the article, my priority as the head of the State Department of Education is to make sure that taxpayer dollars are spent as effectively as possible. To accomplish this, I hired an experienced procurement officer early in my administration to ensure that all contracts are negotiated for maximum benefit to Idaho taxpayers and students.

l In fiscal year 2020, the total value of contracts of more than $25,000 awarded by my department with the state general fund represents 0.65 percent of the total state general fund budget for K-12 education.

l All the contracts awarded by my office in fiscal year 2020 that exceeded $25,000 totaled $26.8 million. Of that, 49 percent is covered by federal funds, and those contracts have very specific requirements, which are often best served by sole sources that have the specific expertise.

l Twenty contracts totaling $8.9 million were issued to other state agencies including Idaho colleges and universities and the STEM Action Center — keeping the money in Idaho.

l Some contracts were appropriated to specific vendors, such as Imagine Learning, by the Legislature through the appropriation process.

l Twenty-two contracts totaling $1.4 million are with individuals who are identified through an application and review process and selected because of their experience and expertise, including our English Language Arts instructional coaches and program coordinators for the Idaho Lives suicide prevention program.

l Other contracts are in place to meet both state and federal requirements, such as the contracts for our statewide assessments. Until new content standards are in place and the State Board of Education and the Legislature have finalized updates to graduation requirements, it would not be effective or efficient to rebid these contracts. It is neither practical nor in students’ and districts’ best interest to create additional expense for professional development and new administration processes to implement a new assessment nor to reset longitudinal data needed for state and federal accountability.

l One example included in the recent article is the controversial — and now defunct — Idaho Education Network broadband contracts. Those contracts were administered by the Department of Administration, not the Department of Education, and were implemented before I took office.

The procurement process I have implemented includes checks and balances and multiple levels of approval. I hired a dedicated procurement officer when I took office, a role applauded by the Legislature at that time. My current procurement officer came in 2017 with more than 15 years of experience in procurement and contracting at a multinational, Fortune 500 company. My procurement officer negotiates with vendors each year to reduce costs, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars in savings for ongoing services such as the K-2 Math Screener and our special education individualized education plan software program.

In addition, we work closely with our vendors to add high-value programs and increase software licenses at no additional cost. Examples include Imagine Math, Learning Literacy, Imagine Reading, Imagine Espanol and the Middlebury supplemental reading program.

The number and scope of education-related contracts in Idaho is worthy of interest and scrutiny to ensure their value to students and educators. My report to the Legislature on all contracts for fiscal year 2020 valued at over $25,000, is posted on the State Department of Education’s website at

Ybarra is serving her second term as superintendent of public instruction.