Last week the Cape Girardeau School District awarded a communication-system contract to a businessman who in recent years has questioned the district's spending practices.
The $13,500 contract to provide a new communications system intended to beef up security and improve emergency response went to Copi-Rite, a Cape Girardeau company owned by Robin Cole.
Cole was among a group of Cape Girardeau residents who last year sought a state audit of the district. At the time, amid severe state budget cuts, Cole and others were asking where the district's money goes and why the district was in dire financial straits.
Superintendent Mark Bowles said Cole's criticism of the district was not a factor in the decision.
"My feeling is that we should not penalize any vendor for exercising their right to come in here and speak to the board," he said. "I want to protect that right."
The board voted 4-1 at a 7 a.m. meeting Friday, with board member Sharon Mueller the only one in opposition. Mueller could not be reached for comment. Board members Laura Sparkman and the Rev. William Bird were not in attendance.
Cole is president of Copi-Rite, which sells and services copy machines. The company also includes a wireless communications division called Connect-Rite. The company is an authorized, direct vendor of Nextel, which offers a communications system that will provide walkie-talkie radios, cell phones and satellite tracking all rolled into one to the school district.
Cole also has called for stronger leadership in the district in letters to the editor of the Southeast Missourian.
Cole said none of that came into play.
"I believe it is a great credit to the board to set aside any difference of opinion that we've had and look at the merits of our proposal and make a decision based on those merits," Cole said.
The new system is set to be installed sometime after July 1.
Cole beat out two other companies, Best Communications and Dittronics, that were vying to become the district's communications system provider.
While Bowles praised all three companies, the board liked that Cole's company is a direct authorized Nextel dealer while the other two were subdealers, Bowles said.
The company will have full-time Nextel staff on site, Bowles said.
"We knew that when we call the staff members at Copi-Rite, we're in essence talking to Nextel," Bowles said. "We won't be routed to some other place."
Cole said the security communication system includes 100 lightweight compact units will be carried by administrators, teachers and drivers throughout the school district. The system uses a Nextel walkie-talkie service providing instant communication between teachers and administrators, both one-to-one and one-to-many throughout every district campus and administrative building.
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