MDE technology vendor list raises questions among state auditor, school districts

MDE technology vendor list raises questions among state auditor, school districts

MOSELLE, Miss. (WDAM) - Tuesday was the deadline for all school districts in the state to submit their technology orders and plans to the Mississippi Department of Education. The devices ordered will be purchased through the Equity in Distance Learning Act, but some aspects of the process have raised some questions.

In August, State Auditor Shad White wrote a letter to Gov. Tate Reeves, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn saying the Mississippi Department of Education was making it difficult for school districts to purchase technology using CARES Act money.

In his letter, White stated department of education told school districts they could only purchase products from vendors listed on the Express Product List provided by MDE.

“Our understanding was that we couldn’t buy off anything off that list,” Jones County School District Superintendent Tommy Parker said.

“There’s a lot that could have been solved here with more open communication between MDE and school districts,” White told WDAM. “I don’t fault school districts for that at all. I think a lot of school districts have worked really hard to get information from MDE.”

According to a few Pine Belt school districts, only two vendors were included in the EPL.

“We were disappointed that some of the local companies here did not have an opportunity to participate and be placed on the EPL,” Parker said.

“MDE’s vendors are not here in Mississippi,” White said. “They’re not Mississippi companies, so that presents a little bit of a problem.”

White’s letter came just a week before the districts had to submit their technology orders to MDE.

“At this point, because of the timing, some of the school districts are left in a really, really tight spot,” White said.

“We just decided to go with the vendor group that they had worked with,” Forrest County School District Superintendent Brian Freeman said.

Freeman says if they had more time, the school district would have looked into the vendors they typically work with.

“We would’ve certainly went with some of those and gotten some quotes and specs and made a comparison had we had more time, obviously,” Freeman said.

With fears of not getting reimbursed by MDE, Parker says they will just play it safe.

“The safest thing for us to do was to buy off the EPL that had been approved by the state,” Parker said.

“It’s really late in the game, we’re really close to the deadline by which the money has to be spent,” White said. “Are you going to go out and hire your own vendor and just hope that the Mississippi Department of Education reimburses you? That’s a tough decision for a superintendent to make.”

Parker says MDE has assured him more than once that they would receive all technology by Nov. 20, with the first devices coming in later this month.

“My hope, of course is that the vendors that were selected by MDE that they can make good on their promise to deliver this technology by a certain date,” White said. “If they don’t, I’ve been told that MDE is still going to honor their agreements.”

MDE disputed the claims in the auditor’s letter and said computers and other technology could be purchased from vendors not on the EPL as long as they met criteria required by them.

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