Iris Network contests award of state bid

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PORTLAND — The Iris Network, which provides education and services  to people who are blind or have low vision, is contesting a state decision that would shift rehabilitation services from the nonprofit.

Iris Network Executive Director James Phipps said June 17 “a profoundly flawed scoring process” led the Maine Department of Labor to award a five-year contract for rehabilitation services to Catholic Charities of Maine.

The appeal was filed June 1 with the Department of Administrative & Financial Services.

DOL spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz declined comment on the appeal on the request for proposal, which seeks a vendor to provide “direct instructional services that enable blind and visually impaired adults, and Students Aged 14 and Older, to prepare for employment and independent living in their community.”

On Monday, Catholic Charities of Maine spokeswoman Judy Katzel said the nonprofit saw the RFP as a way to expand its services.

“We have a very strong track record of providing high quality services for children, it just made sense to look to expand the services for adults,” she said. 

Catholic Charities of Maine now has an Education Services for Blind and Visually Impaired Children serving about 300 children to the age of 18 throughout the state, Katzel said.

The Iris Network has provided services for more than 35 years, Phipps said, and presented an annual bid that was $200,000 under the $1.32 million Catholic Charities bid.

“The Iris Network intends to show that reversing the contract award is essential to avoid serious harm to the public interest in high quality and cost effective community-based blindness rehabilitation services,” Phipps said.

Phipps said a key factor to be contested was the overhead costs, as the bids for staff costs were almost the same. The Catholic Charities bid places staff costs at $757,00 annually, while the Iris Network bid places staff costs at $726,000.

“The board of directors of The Iris Network strongly believes that public resources should be spent on delivery of client services, not on higher administrative costs,” he said.

The RFP shows the contract would last for two years initially, with two renewal periods that could carry it through June 30, 2021. The services, which could be one-on-one or in groups, are anticipated to be provided for 600 adults annually.

Applicants were evaluated on a 100-point scale with a maximum 30 points each awarded for qualifications, specifications and cost, and 10 points awarded at most for the economic impact on the state.

Ultimately, Catholic Charities of Maine scored 1.7 points higher than the Iris Network.

“The standard for overturning this award is based on both fairness, and obtaining the best value for Maine taxpayers,” Phipps said. 

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.