The Senate on Thursday passed legislation that would allow nearly $1 billion in technology spending around the state over the next five years while also reforming the procurement process to avoid costly missteps.
During debate on the long-term borrowing bill, the Senate added $68.2 million bringing the bottom line of the bond bill to $999.2 million.
The bill also includes $38 million for matching grants to schools to upgrade their technology. On a 16 to 22 vote, the Senate rejected an amendment backed by Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester, and Sen. Patricia Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat, that would have required state education officials to study what the cost would be to implement a new standardized test that is in the pilot stage, known as PARCC for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
On Cape Ann, only Rockport has opted to shift to the new PARCC tests for the coming school year; Gloucester and Manchester Essex Regional school districts will continue to use the MCAS test.
Tarr questioned why lawmakers would not want to know what the technologically intensive testing program would cost, while Senate Bonding Chairman Brian Joyce said a cost study would overburden state education officials and it would be difficult to separate out the PARCC costs from tech upgrades that would be needed even without the new test.
The bill limited the technological upgrades that can be funded at school buildings that are scheduled to be decommissioned or razed within 10 years.
The bill (S 2223) also aims to centralize the procurement process so that state officials with expertise in the field can work on negotiating with IT vendors.
“This legislation enacts the reforms needed to help protect taxpayers against expensive and broken IT projects,” said Joyce, a Milton Democrat. “It will also ensure that our schools can implement technology upgrades to prepare our children for college and beyond.”
In a unanimous vote, senators adopted a Sen. James Timilty amendment adding $68.2 million to upgrade the statewide communications network used by the State Police and primary voice radio communications used by other state and local public safety agencies. In calling for the amendment, Timilty said that the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013 put a heavy load on the communications system.