The major computer makers have come up with a way to protect you from the ravages of equipment obsolescence. It means you’ll never again have to spend hundreds of thousands of tight school dollars only to see your high-tech purchases rendered obsolete in a matter of months.

The alternative is leasing, not new for many products perhaps, but a recent innovation among computer hardware manufacturers, who long have benefited from the all-but-perpetual need to upgrade.

But be warned, the extra level of comfort that leasing provides comes at a price, and it might not be the right price for you. Whether leasing makes sense for your specific schools is something only you will be able to determine.

With the leasing option, you pay a monthly fee for equipment that’s installed in your classrooms as soon as the lease is signed. You can either own the equipment at the end of the lease or turn in the old machines for brand new ones.

Of course, you end up paying more for the lease than you would have for outright purchases. Usually, though, schools and government agencies are given lower rates than corporations that lease hardware.

The more important it is to you to have the most up-to-date equipment, the more attractive the leasing option will become.

Ed Steil, coordinator of administrative technology for the Fayette County (Ga.) Board of Education, is one of those K-12 decision makers who’s considering putting his technology dollars toward a leasing program. He’s attracted by the potential to have his schools continually outfitted with state-of-the-art hardware.

“We’re trying to get the most for our money,” Steil said. “[Leasing] allows us within a certain time frame to upgrade the equipment . . . And at the rate technology is changing, we couldn’t otherwise keep up.”

Should schools be concerned about keeping up with the Gates’s? Steil thinks so. “I feel like we have a responsibility to prepare our kids for what they’re going to do when they leave school,” Steil said. “Employers want kids who are trained. We’re doing a disservice if we don’t give them the skills they’ll need when they get to the business or college world.” That world, Steil points out, is one of rapidly-evolving technology.

Dell, Gateway 2000, and Compaq are just three of the companies offering a variety of leasing options, but other high tech companies are almost sure to follow.

Leasing is a new way of thinking about your technology program, explained George Warren, a spokesman for Dell.

“The decision schools have to make is [between] acquiring systems or subscribing to the value of a system” Warren said. He thinks the latter is a perspective likely to get more popular over time. Warren points to the fact that Apple IIEs — machines that haven’t been made in five years — still make up 14 percent of existing computers in schools.

Dell offers special leasing options for schools, and anything in the Dell product line can be leased.

Gateway 2000 has been offering leasing options for some time, said Stacy Hand, product marketing manager. Hand said that leasing makes sense for schools with a fixed budget.

“When you lease equipment,” Hand said, “it enables you to spread that money over more machines.” Whereas you might have been able to purchase outright 100 machines, for example, you might be able to lease twice as many machines. According to Hand, schools get “very, very competitive” rates.

Gateway 2000 offers three leasing programs:

  • With “lease-to-own,” the computers are yours at the end of the lease.
  • With Gateway’s “true lease,” you have the options of either returning or buying the machines at end of program.
  • With Gateway’s “technology refresh lease,” you have a specified period of time during which to “refresh” the technology — say, to upgrade your Pentiums with Pentium 2 systems.

All the new leasing programs offer the same promise. You can avoid locking yourself into a long contract and equipment that’s outdated by the time you’re done paying for it.

Gateway 2000

http://www.gateway.com

Dell Computer Corp.

http://www.dell.com

Compaq

http://www.compaq.com