The Mississippi Department of Education received an exemption Wednesday from the state Public Procurement Review Board on a $1.8 million call center contract despite having a protest on the contract.
MDE wanted an exemption to the regulatory one-year limitation on emergency contracts (for two years and nine months) for a vendor that would provide a call center for education licensure, which would respond to calls from prospective and licensed educators regarding licensure requirements. The money would come from federal COVID-19 relief funds, which have strict deadlines.
The MDE says it received 18 responses to its request for proposals and awarded the contract to the lowest bidder, TempStaff, Inc. Another bidder filed a protest, but the MDE says going through the protest procedure would prevent it from being able to use the federal money for the contract.
Officials from the state Department of Finance and Administration said that the exemption granted by the board also started a new single-source procurement with TempStaff Inc., which eliminated the protest.
Other parts of the $88 million procurement with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds will include a new school security system, a replacement of the Mississippi Student Information System and learning aids for students.
The emergency declaration will help MDE officials meet deadlines to spend the federal money, which was appropriated by the Legislature last March.
Federal regulations require contracts to be awarded by January 2022 for the first round of funds and March 2022 for the second round. The department also must show federal officials that the funds are obligated through September 30, 2023 (first batch) and September 30, 2024 (second batch), which requires an extended contract.
These federal funds are a 9.5 percent holdback by the MDE from $2.5 billion from the ESSER Fund provided by the federal government that was disbursed to school districts for COVID-related expenses such as distance learning. Most of these funds were issued directly to districts.
The PPRB also approved unanimously an exemption for a $6 million single-source contract with MDE to provide literacy professional development for administrators and teachers to comply with the Literacy-Based Promotion Act, which was passed by the Legislature in 2013 and provides an emphasis for grade-level reading skills for children in grades kindergarten through third.
MDE said an invitation for bids process was neither practicable or advantageous since it needed to comparatively evaluate the capabilities and organization of vendors to see if they could perform the work. The MDE will use a request for proposal to award the contract.
The West Point Consolidated School District was also given an exemption from the reverse auction requirements for a $500,000 broadband project under the E-Rate program, which is the School and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund.
Also receiving an exemption from reverse auction requirements was the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources for three Mercury outboard motors worth $90,000.