Mark Long, director of information systems for the Norristown (Pa.) School District, is facing a problem shared by many eRate applicants. By qualifying for only a 69 percent discount, the district may narrowly miss the projected cutoff for the funding of internal connections, according to the FCC’s ruling.

Norristown began a $1.6 million wiring project on June 15. Though the district had passed a local bond issue to fund the project, Long said he’d anticipated using his eRate discount to purchase more computers and bolster staff training.

“$1.1 million in savings could have bought us a lot of computers, a lot of training,” Long said.

Norristown is an urban school district outside of Philadelphia. Nearly half its students are minorities, and 52 percent qualify for reduced-price lunches. In a straight calculation of discount using its total student population, Norristown would have qualified for an 80 percent discount—enough to get its wiring project funded.

Yet, because the calculation of a school district’s discount is weighted by building, Norristown likely will miss out.

According to SLC rules, the discount percentage of each building in a district must be calculated separately, then multiplied by the number of students in the building to get a weighted average for the district as a whole.

Under the rules of the program, Norristown’s discount drops to 69 percent, despite the fact that it’s one of the poorest districts in the county.

Long is frustrated that a sudden change in ruling by the FCC—long after all eRate applications had been submitted—may dramatically affect his district’s funding.

“If I’d known that [funding for wiring may be cut off around the 80 percent level], I could have submitted separate applications for each school,” Long said. That way, Norristown would have been assured of at least some of the funding for its wiring project.

Like many applicants, Long is upset that his district invested a great deal of money under the assumption that if it followed the rules, Norristown would recover some of its investment in promised discounts.

“What happens if internal connections are funded in full next year?” Long said. “I’m out of luck because I applied in the wrong calendar year. If they want to change the program, fine, but they should have waited until next year to change it.”