As school officials consider how best to boost technology in elementary and middle school classrooms in Forest Park, board members and administrators pulled few punches in speculating that a $90,000 agreement with a longtime vendor could be slashed, and the services provided at a lower cost.
During the summer months, 130 computers will be added to District 91’s network once construction crews finish a trio of computer labs for students. Those machines will be purchased for roughly $95,300 from AX Computers in nearby Berwyn. The rub, however, came in reviewing another pitch from the same company to conduct a 30-day assessment of the district’s computer network for $11,000.
For almost 10 years the district has used Micro-T to keep its network humming, but Superintendent Lou Cavallo and Business Manager Ed Brophy said they don’t have a clear understanding of exactly how much maintenance the system requires. Meetings between Brophy and Mike Roti, founder of Micro-T in Cicero, did not satisfy the district’s curiosity about the level of service actually being provided.
Micro-T collects a flat rate each month, according to the district, which now amounts to $90,000 a year.
“Our current vendor might be the best way to go,” Cavallo said to board members of the need for a network assessment. “We just don’t know.”
At $75 an hour for network services, Cavallo said Roti presumably spends 100 hours each month fixing the district’s network. The bulk of that work is done remotely, though, making it difficult to verify the vendor’s billable hours. During the board’s June 12 meeting Cavallo said he does not believe Roti is putting in 25 hours per week on the district’s behalf.
Frank Mott was one of several school board members to comment on the presumption that Roti may be inflating his invoices.
“He’s probably sitting in his underwear playing on the Internet and making $90,000,” Mott said.
Board members voted 5-2 to authorize AX Computers to conduct its assessment. Vice President Sean Blaylock and board member Joan White voted against the measure.
Roti did not attend the June 12 meeting but said in a telephone interview that he was aware the district is looking at other vendors. According to Roti, he spends a minimum of three hours each day, seven days a week, tending to the district’s computer network. For the last 10 years, he said, he has gone out of his way to help the school with its technology and literally built the network of 600 computers and nine servers that exists.
In 2007, he said, he spent several hours on the day of his mother’s funeral fixing a problem with the district’s servers.
“I’ve never padded anything,” Roti said of his billing practices. “I’ve been working for the district for 10 years. If I was padding the bill I’d have been out a long time ago.”
Following the board’s discussion Cavallo said he is not accusing Roti of padding the district’s bill, and that he only wants the information he needs to help the board make an informed decision.
“We can’t do that without knowing what the work entails,” Cavallo said.
But Roti said he has had numerous discussions with the district’s business manager in recent months during which he was asked to provide greater detail about his work. Such scrutiny is fine, said Roti, and he won’t be upset if the district chooses another vendor. He was upset, however, that administrators suspect they’re being cheated.
“I’ve been in business 20 years,” Roti said. “My integrity has never been questioned. Why did somebody have to take it to a personal level?”