While Columbia Countys government continues to study ways to inject common sense into the way it purchases good and services, the school system is considering a better way to buy computers.
Its about time. For the past several years, Columbia County taxpayers have shelled out millions for school computers as the school system equipped and upgraded classrooms. Each year, the system has solicited bids and bought new computers from a different company.
The process has been a mess. First, one company provided computers that included a high number of defects. The next year, the system bought from an Atlanta company in a controversial process that left one local vendor complaining that the bids were rigged. The winning company has since sold its assets to another firm that is balking at honoring its warranties.
The next year, another out-of-town vendor won, but its bid was disqualified - and then the purchase went to the same local vendor who protested the previous years deal.
Each year has brought a different crop of vendors and a menagerie of computers. The machines have generally been good quality, and taxpayers have gotten plenty of bang for their considerable bucks. But because each vendor has assembled the computers with different components, none of the systems have been alike. Some have worked well, and others havent. Its created a maintenance nightmare.
Weve run into problems with compatibility of parts, getting a group of parts to upgrade or keeping systems going because we have so many different models, says Michael Kent, the school systems technology director. We thought, "Theres got to be a better way.
Kent wants the county to buy name-brand units through the Georgia Technology Authority and Western States Contracting Alliance. Those agencies have worked out bulk-rate deals on new computers from HP/Compaq, Dell, Gateway and IBM.
If there is a downside to this deal, its that local vendors will be shut out of the process. But if it finally brings some consistency and long-term compatibility to school technology, thats a small price to pay - especially if the actual price, in tax dollars, is lower.
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