U.S. Markets close in 43 mins

APNewsBreak: Skyward bid protest rejected by Wis.

Scott Bauer, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The state Department of Public Instruction on Thursday rejected a protest filed by a Wisconsin company that lost out on a multimillion dollar contract to run a student information system in state schools, saying the complaint lacked merit.

Skyward Inc., of Stevens Point, filed the protest in February arguing that the process awarding the bid to Minnesota's Infinite Campus was unfair. Skyward, which employs about 270 people statewide, threatened to leave Wisconsin if it lost the contract.

The contract could be worth as much as $80 million over the next decade. Skyward had asked DPI to either award Skyward the contract or throw all the bids out and start over.

But DPI Secretary Tony Evers said in a letter to Skyward that the review by a three-person committee of department employees determined that the complaint "lacks merit, and that no law was violated" during the bid process. The DPI provided the letter to The Associated Press before releasing it publicly.

The department also enlisted former state Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske, a Marquette University law professor, to independently review the process. She said in a separate letter to Evers that the bid was reasonable, professionally handled and fair.

Raymond Ackerlund, Skyward's vice president of marketing, said the company is disappointed with the results of the review and will be filing an appeal to the state Department of Administration. Skyward has five business days to appeal.

"Obviously, it's the right thing for us to do," Ackerlund said of the appeal.

Gov. Scott Walker's Department of Administration oversaw the evaluation and awarding of the bid. The request for proposals was developed by DPI, which is in charge of overseeing implementation of the data system.

The state will not proceed with finalizing the contract with Infinite Campus until the appeal process with DOA is completed, the DPI statement said.

The new system is designed to make it easier for DPI to track information and for districts to collect and share information about students, including academic performance and demographic information. The move to a single statewide system is expected to save school districts millions of dollars as they no longer have to run their own systems to track student data including grades and health records.

Skyward waged a public relations battle earlier this year after losing to Infinite Campus of Blaine, Minn., running full-page ads in newspapers across the state urging people to contact Walker.

The company argued in February that DPI, as well as the committee of five unidentified people who evaluated the bids, "failed to provide a fair, transparent, and open process." Skyward cited 73 instances where it said Infinite Campus received scores that were higher than were allowed for those particular items. Skyward also said there were discrepancies in the evaluation of technical requirements and the protection of key information related to pricing structure analysis.

Skyward further argued that Skyward's bid would cost the state $14.5 million less than Infinite Campus over the course of 10 years and that the state did not consider the implementation costs that districts would face.

The DPI rejected all of the company's arguments as being without merit.

Geske's review of the process was the second conducted by an independent source. Attorney Cari Anne Renlund reviewed the bid process and said in February there were no problems. Renlund worked for former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.

Walker's administration has been sensitive to criticism over the awarding of the contract after his economic development agency offered Skyward $12 million in tax breaks contingent upon it winning the contract. That offer was rescinded a day before bids were due in June amid concerns that it was inappropriate.

Infinite Campus already provides software to about 26 percent of Wisconsin school districts, while Skyward is used by about 45 percent of districts. Infinite Campus says on its website that it provides statewide data-management software for five other states and has contracts with individual districts in 43 states.