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Arkansas lawmakers question procurement process

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(The Center Square) – The Arkansas Legislative Council voted not to review a $25 million in advertising contracts between the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism and a Little Rock company after questions about the state’s overall procurement process.

The contract will be reviewed next month to allow the vendor to come in and speak with the committee, according to a motion made by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Spring, and approved by the committee.

The contract is the second questioned by lawmakers this week. A contract between the Department of Education and a professional development vendor was withdrawn by the department amid inquiries by the ALC-Review Committee.

Arkansas state law allows departments to consider bids using a scoring procedure. The departments must give a minimum of 30% weight to cost and the rest of the consideration to technical expertise when considering a contract award, which some lawmakers think is too low.

Tourism officials’ cost criteria for the contract with advertising agency Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods was 30% of the decision.

“Thirty percent is supposed to be something that may we’re tying silos together and it’s so technical in nature that only a few people can do it and we have to look at that,” said Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana. “Something like this I would never think would just require a 30% cost.”

Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods has held the contract since 2017 and has received more than $69 million, according to the Transparency Arkansas website. The company has also worked with the Arkansas Lottery, the Arkansas State Police, the Department of Commerce, and the Economic Development Commission.

In a separate contract, the education department gave 30% consideration in a contract with Solution Tree, Inc., a company that provides professional development for educators through professional learning communities, known as PLCs. Solution Tree scored a perfect 700 in technical expertise over the other seven vendors, according to the request for proposal obtained by The Center Square. The company’s $112.5 million bid for a seven-year contract was almost $87 million higher than the second-highest bid. After discussions, the bid is now $99.4 million, according to the company.

Solution Tree has worked with Arkansas schools for the past seven years. The state has paid the company $149 million in the past seven years, according to Transparency Arkansas.

Lawmakers questioned the effectiveness of the training. Steve Quinn, a middle school principal from Benton, told the review committee that Solution Tree’s training helped his school.

“Three years ago, we had 83 students with a semester “F,” Quinn said. “This year we had 16. That means 99.2% of our students had all passing grades.”

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