When Gov. Butch Otter and state superintendent Tom Luna announced the state’s Students Come First laptop deal, they wanted you to take away this one number: $292.77.
That was the per-unit cost announced last week — and, at first blush, it sounds like the state got a bargain.
But the fine print tells another story. The details were unearthed Tuesday by the Spokane Spokesman-Review’s Betsy Russell, who obtained a copy of the state’s contract with Hewlett-Packard under the state’s public records act.
First, you need to keep in mind that this is an annual per-unit cost. The computers for high school students and teachers will be replaced on a four-year cycle, pushing the four-year per unit cost to $1,171.08.
Second, this is a lease agreement, not a purchase. At the end of the four years, the laptops revert back to H-P. While H-P is required under warranty to replace defective equipment, the state is on the hook to replace computers that are lost, damaged or stolen.
The normally measured Randy Stapilus — a Northwest political blogger and former Idaho Statesman editor — promptly dubbed this the “yagottabekiddin clause.”
“Tens of thousands of computers. Liability: Seemingly unlimited. Unbelievable.”
Actually, I can believe it. This seems to me like a boilerplate rental relationship. With the ability to walk away from 4-year-old laptops comes certain liabilities. More surprising, and more significant to taxpayers, is the rising pricetag.
In 2011, Luna’s office estimated this program would cost $70.8 million over the first five years — including the devices and wireless. The five-year costs now, again — for laptops and wireless — will approach $82.9 million.
But even that figure doesn’t tell the whole story. The state is gradually rolling out this program, furnishing laptops to teachers first, and then incrementally to the students, so the contract won’t fully kick in until year four. In years six through eight, when the state is taking delivery of more than 271,000 laptops, the contract will cost the state a total of $79.4 million.
This deal will cost Idaho taxpayers at least $167.7 million over eight years — and, as Bill Burns of the state Department of Administration’s purchasing division told the Associated Press last week, H-P came in as the low bidder.
But at the tail end of a costly, rancorous campaign, the details are just coming into focus.
Buyer (or renter) beware.