The Minneapolis school district spends more than $1 million a year on copying and printing, and firms compete for that business.

On Tuesday, a Minneapolis company that lost its bid to provide the district with copying equipment and service took the competition to Hennepin County District Court, accusing the district of showing favoritism, violating public contract law and costing Minneapolis taxpayers a lot of money.

Imaging Path charged that the district's new purchasing director, Gary Anderson, favored Ricoh Americas Corp. before bidding began. Imaging Path says selecting Ricoh will cost at least $600,000 more over five years.

The district fired back that it broke no laws, picked the best company and went with a bid that was only slightly more costly. Corey Ayling, the district's lawyer, said the deal with Ricoh will cost the district only $573 more a month. He said one reason for Ricoh's higher cost is that Imaging Path proposed 46 copiers for the district's two office buildings, while Ricoh proposed 65.

"This was a rational, non-arbitrary process," Ayling said.

Judge Denise Reilly said she'll rule by week's end on a request for temporary restraining order that would block the deal.

The school board approved the new contract Tuesday night, but it won't be signed until Reilly issues her decision, said district spokesman Stan Alleyne.

The district argued that courts have ruled that judges are not experts on bidding processes, and unless there's an illegal or capricious process, which there was not, Reilly should not intervene.

Mark Blando, Imaging Path's attorney, called the district's process "deeply flawed," resulting in unequal treatment and irreparable damage.

"The proposed award is contrary to the public interest and represents an unacceptable waste of taxpayer funds ... even as it [the school district] faces a $19 million budget deficit," Imaging Path claims.

The district has used three vendors (Imaging Path, Ricoh and IKON). Copy machine print costs run .0038 cents per page, while copies from laser printers are far more expensive at 2.5 cents to 3.5 cents per page, the district says. Shifting the district's printing to copiers is an industry "best practice," Anderson said in an interview.

Imaging Path says Anderson told Imaging Path officials in December that he planned to cancel the company's contract and go with Ricoh, which he denies. Imaging Path said Anderson described himself as "the new sheriff in town." Anderson says he does not remember saying that. "I think I probably told them we are going in a new direction with a new strategy," he said.

Imaging Path alleges that only Ricoh got the opportunity to adjust its bid.

Rose Hanson, public works specialist with the city of Red Wing and president of the Minnesota Chapter of the National Institute of Governmental Purchasers, said purchasing agents look out for the best interest of taxpayers, and "that does not always necessarily mean the bottom-line dollar. What it means, essentially, is: Are you getting the best bang for the buck?" Hanson said she is unfamiliar with the Minneapolis school case.

The school district said it picked Ricoh through a "community purchasing" process by piggy-backing off a contract Ricoh was awarded by the city of Los Angeles in competitive bidding, a system available to schools through a national coalition of city purchasers. The district says it assembled an eight-person team and scored the two competing vendors.

Randy Furst • 612-673-7382