License plate sales fund school technology

An innovative South Carolina program to raise money for school computers by selling special license plates got a boost in September from an insurance software company.

Policy Management Systems Corp. said it and many of its workers would buy the $54 license plates that feature a big red apple logo. All the money goes to local school districts for computer purchases.

About 600 employee and company vehicles will add the special license plates in the coming weeks, raising more than $30,000 for the schools, said Larry Wilson, the company’s chairman, president, and chief executive. About 200 employees took part in the company’s first yearly “Plate Day” on Sept. 14, Wilson said.

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Newslines–Now students can hate those automated phone calls, too

The Fayetteville, Ark., School District has set up an automated telephone program that will call a student’s home each day the student is absent from one or more class periods.

There is a problem, though. If the student gets to the telephone first, it likely defeats the purpose.

“Eventually … we’ll set it up where the parent can call back in to see if their child was absent,” said Gail Quillen, the school board’s director of technology programs. “This is just what the first phase of the system can do. It can also be set to notify parents of parent-teacher conferences.”

The system will start calling at 4:30 p.m. and call once each hour until the telephone is answered, Quillen said. “We’ll keep the system going till 9:30. We don’t want to call too late, but we want to reach them,” she said.

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Newslines–Channel One survives more rough surf

The Channel One education network is back on in schools in Jefferson County, Ala., after a three-week moratorium, during which school officials found strong support for its programs.

“We were amazed at the reaction of the parents, students, and teachers to get the program going again,” said Nez Calhoun, a spokeswoman for the county school system. “They saw it as a springboard for discussion in the classroom and they all wanted to keep it.”

Channel One provides televisions and VCRs to schools in exchange for showing 10 minutes of news and features geared to teen-agers and two minutes of commercials.

Jefferson County Superintendent Bruce Wright canceled the network early in September so a committee of educators and parents could review its value. The action came after Shelby County school officials banned the network out of concern that its internet site linked to R-rated movie sites and homosexual chat rooms.

Channel One officials changed the web site in response and the Jefferson County review committee found there had been confusion about a web site for Channel 1, which is not the Channel One network.

“Young people today are very computer-literate and parents have to be concerned about what their kids are doing,” Wright said. “But this committee looked at the content of this program and found it to be adequate.”

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How to maximize your discount level

There are two factors which determine your percentage of eRate discounts: whether your school or library is considered urban or rural, and what its perceived level of economic need is. The first factor has already been decided for you using statistics from the Office of Management and Budget; but the second factor is where, with a little savvy, you can score big gains in funding.

For purposes of the eRate, “perceived level of economic need” is measured by the percentage of your students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Note that the rules use the word “eligible”—so you don’t have to calculate your discount according to the percentage of your students who actually participate in the reduced-lunch program.

Greg Weisiger, eRate consultant for the Virginia Department of Education, believes many schools and districts made this mistake when they applied last year. As a result, Weisiger said, discount levels for many schools—paricularly high schools—were most likely underreported.

“Just looking at the applications from the state of Virginia, we noticed a slight, but consistent, drop-off between the discount levels requested by elementary and middle schools and those requested by high schools from the same district,” Weisiger noted.

Participation in the reduced-price lunch program generally drops from middle to high school, Weisiger said. One reason is the stigma that students attach to the program as they get older; high-school students generally don’t want to be seen as different or deserving of special treatment.

To ensure you’re calculating your discount based on the percentage of students who actually are eligible for the program, Weisiger recommends that you check for students who have siblings in lower grades who participate in the program. If the siblings share the same household, the older siblings are eligible for reduced lunches as well.

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Getting a head start on the 1999 application cycle

As it stands now, the 1999-2000 eRate application window opens Dec. 1, 1998. The length of this window is 80 days, which means you have until 11:59 p.m. EST on Feb. 19, 1999 to submit your Forms 471 to the SLC. Applications submitted Feb. 20 or later still will be accepted, but if the first program year is any indication, there won’t be any funds left to fulfill your requests unless you make it in under the window.

For schools that have long bidding and procurement cycles, or schools that need more time to manage the request for proposal (RFP) process for large and complex projects, 80 days may not be enough time to submit a Form 470, entertain bids, sign a contract, and submit a Form 471.

Using the FCC’s rules for pre-existing contracts, though, you can get a jump on the bidding process before Dec. 1 and still meet the guidelines of the program. Then you won’t have to wait until the application window opens to start your complex bidding process.

Here’s how:

In a nutshell, you’ll start the proposal, bidding, and contracting process against the current 1998 funding year. This will establish your contract as a 1998-initated, multi-year contract. Then, during the 1999-2000 application window that opens Dec. 1, you’ll file for eRate discounts on this “pre-existing” contract.

First, a quick review of the rules. The eRate application process allows you to sign multi-year contracts and apply for continued eRate support in future years against this “pre-existing” contract, without having to rebid the contract each year.

You’re also allowed to use the eRate bidding and application process to sign a qualified contract any time during a funding year, even after the application window of that funding year has closed.

Since the 1998 funding year is still in effect, then, you can begin the eRate competitive bidding and contracting process now (before Dec. 1, 1998) to establish a 1998-initiated multi-year contract.

If the contract is competitively bid under eRate guidelines and signed in 1998 for services that extend into 1999 or beyond, it is considered a qualified “pre-existing” contract and does not need to be rebid during the application windows of the 1999-2000 and future funding years.

Then, when the application window opens Dec. 1, you would submit an eRate application against this pre-existing contract to request eRate support for fiscal year 1999-2000.

Here’s the detailed sequence:

(1)File a Form 470 against the current 1998 funding year. Yes, technically you can still do this.

(2)Follow your local competitive RFP/bidding process.

(3)Wait at least 28 days after your Form 470 was posted to the SLC’s web site.

(4)Select your vendor(s) and sign contracts. Do this before Jan. 21, 1999 (28 days before the window closes on Feb. 19, 1999).

(5)File a Form 470 against the 1999 funding year, indicating that you have qualified pre-existing contracts. Do this on Dec. 1, 1998, or on the date you sign your contracts in step (4), whichever is later.

(6)Wait at least 28 days after this Form 470 has been posted to the SLC’s web site.

(7)File a Form 471, also against the 1999 funding year, to request funding for the pre-existing contracts you signed in step (4) for the funding year from July 1, 1999 through June 30, 2000.

This mechanism enables you to start the eRate bidding process before Dec. 1, 1998, giving you more time to accommodate long and complex bidding situations.

As always, the SLC holds the official judgment on the administration of the eRate program and should be consulted for official guidance. The SLC’s Client Service Bureau can be reached at (888) 203-8100.

As eRate solution manager of IBM’s Educational Industry Solution Unit, Man Bui works with schools and libraries to help them understand, apply for, and make effective use of the eRate. He can be reached via eMail at mmbui@us.ibm.com.

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Taking the bite out of the BEAR Form

While you were waiting for your funding decision from the SLC, you paid for services in full and took the chance on good faith that you’d be reimbursed. How, and when, can you expect to get that money back?

The SLC’s reimbursement process is guided by three principles:

• Applicants WILL be reimbursed for money spent out of pocket.

• Reimbursements will come from your service providers via check or credit. It’s up to you to work this out with your vendors. Service providers may choose which method is most convenient for them but also must entertain your request, if different.

• The Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC) will issue a refund check to your service providers to cover the amount of your reimbursements. But service providers are required to reimburse you before they cash their check from USAC.

The only scenario in which you’d receive your reimbursement directly from the SLC would be if your service provider has gone out of business. In that case, you should contact the SLC in writing as soon as you get your funding commitment letter and explain the details of your situation.

The first thing you’ll do is fill out and submit a Form 486, which notifies the SLC that it’s okay to process vendor invoices for the services you’ve already received. In Block 2, Column I of your Form 486, you’ll write “yes” to indicate that you’ll be filing a Billed Entity Applicant Reimbursement (BEAR) Form as well.

BEAR Form explained

Each BEAR form must contain exactly one Billed Entity Number (in other words, only one applicant) and exactly one Service Provider Identification Number (SPIN). If you have contracts with several vendors, you’ll have to fill out BEAR forms for each vendor separately.

However, you can include as many Funding Request Numbers (FRNs) or Forms 471 as you want on one BEAR form, as long as those services are provided by the same vendor.

The BEAR form and Form 474, the “Service Provider Invoice Form,” are modelled after each other for the SLC’s convenience. Aside from their headers, both forms contain identical fields of information.

Service providers must file a Form 474 each time they send you a bill for services (i.e., once per month for services billed monthly, or each time work is completed for one-time services). To make it easier on vendors, the SLC allows them to submit Form 474 online once they have registered to do so.

For applicants, the BEAR form CANNOT be submitted electronically. There may be two times during this first program cycle when you’ll submit a BEAR form:

(1) As soon as you receive your funding commitment letter, to recover the money you’ve spent since the program began Jan. 30; and

(2) Once you actually begin to see discounts reflected in your bills, to recover any additional money that you’ve paid in full while waiting for your service providers to incorporate your discount into their billing procedures.

The SLC’s idea is to get the money into your hands as quickly as possible; therefore, you have the option of filing one BEAR form right away and another later on, after you’ve made your final pre-discount payment. If your service providers are able to incorporate discounts into your bills right away, or if you’d prefer to wait and fill out BEAR forms only once, you have that option as well.

Block 1: Header Information

All items in the header must be filled out completely.

Items 4 and 5 ask for the name and number of a contact person. This doesn’t have to be the name of the original applicant, though it could be; or it could be the person responsible for your organization’s purchasing or billing. You should choose the person who would be most appropriate for the SLC to contact if there are any questions regarding vendor invoices or reimbursements.

Item 6 asks you for a “Reimbursement Form Number.” Like the Form 486, this allows you to assign your own unique number to the form for purposes of identifying or distinguishing it from others you may have filed.

Item 8 asks you for your total reimbursement amount. You’ll add the total amount from Block 2, Item 15 and enter it here.

Block 2: Line Item Information Per Funding Request Number

• Item 9, “FCC Form 471 Application Number”: Again, just as you did on your Form 486, you’ll enter the ten-digit Form 471 number that appeared in the header of your funding commitment letter for each service.

• Item 10, “Funding Request Number”: This tells the SLC which services you’re requesting reimbursements on.

• Item 11, “Bill Frequency”: This column is blacked out in your BEAR form, and you don’t have to fill it out. The only reason it’s here is because the information fields in the BEAR form are identical to those of the Service Provider Invoice Forms. Service providers are required to supply this information on their Forms 474.

• Item 12, “Customer Billed Date”: For each funding request number, you’ll fill out EITHER Item 12 or Item 13, but not both. Item 12 is for any service you get more than one bill for, like monthly telecommunications services or internet access. The SLC is looking for an anchor date here—the month and year you first received a bill within the current program cycle.

• Item 13, “Shipping Date to Customer or Last Day of Work Performed”: If you filled out Item 12 for a particular FRN, then you don’t have to put anything here. This is for services you receive only one bill for, like a one-time charge to wire your school or library building. You’ll enter the date you received the bill for that one-time service here, in month/day/year format.

• Item 14, “Total (Undiscounted) Amount for Service”: Add up all your bills for each service, beginning with the period that you recorded in Item 12, and enter the total here.

• Item 15, “Discount Amount Billed to SLC”: You can use the Optional Pre-Discount Cost Calculation Grid that was included with your funding commitment letter to help you subtract ineligible entities or services from the amount you entered in Item 14, then multiply that subtotal by your discount percentage to get the total amount you expect to be reimbursed on each particular service.

Block 3: Applicant Certification

When you sign your BEAR form in Block 3, you’re certifying that the total amount listed in Block 2, Item 15 was paid for eligible services delivered only to eligible entites for eligible uses; was paid for by you, the applicant; and reflects only approved discounts by the SLC.

You must complete all fields in Block 3, and you must supply an original signature (not a copy). You may want to sign in blue ink to help the SLC verify that your signature is original.

Block 4: Service Provider Acknowledgement

Your service providers also need to sign off on your BEAR forms. By signing the forms, your service providers are agreeing that they performed the services indicated and were paid in full for those services. Your vendors also are promising to reimburse you before they cash their checks from USAC.

While your signature must be an original, your service providers’ signatures don’t have to be. The easiest procedure would be to fill out the BEAR form, then send a copy to your service provider. The service provider then would fax or send Block 4 back to you with a signature, and you would send the completed form, including the copy of Block 4 with your servive provider’s signature, to the SLC.

BEAR approval process

The SLC’s goal is to process and approve each BEAR form within 20 days of receiving it. The SLC will process the BEAR form the same way it will process Form 486.

If your form is approved, the SLC will notify your service provider to ready its reimbursement to you. You’ll be copied on that notification, too.

At the same time, the SLC will notify USAC to cut a check to your service provider in the amount of your reimbursement.

Within 10 days of receiving notification from the SLC, your service provider must provide your reimbursement in the form of a check or credit.

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Dissecting Form 486

Form 486 verifies that you are receiving the services you’ve requested discounts for and gives the green light to the SLC to begin processing invoices from your vendors. It also verifies that you have a technology plan approved by an SLC-authorized agency.

There are five cases in which you’ll need to fill out and submit a Form 486:

• Receipt of a funding commitment letter for existing services;

• Start or receipt of approved new services;

• Early termination of services;

• Extension of a contract expiration date;

• Decision to cancel a Funding Request Number for services.

Think of Form 486 as a “start or stop payment” form. You must file a Form 486 within five (5) business days of receiving your commitment letter for existing services, and within five (5) business days of the start date for new services, to let the SLC know to start payment to vendors on their invoices.

You also have to file a Form 486 immediately if the delivery of a service is terminated before the contract expiration date indicated on your Form 471 (Items 15 or 16, Column 5), or if you want to cancel a funding request altogether, to let the SLC know to stop payment to vendors on their invoices.

The fifth reason to file a Form 486 would be to extend the expiration date of a contract within the current program year. Because the FCC’s Fifth Order extended the first eRate cycle to June 30, 1999, you’ll probably want to extend your contracts with service providers to reflect that extra six months of funding. Form 486 lets the SLC know that you have done so.

The person who completed your Form 471 (often referred to as the “Billed Entity” by the SLC) should also file Form 486. You can choose either to file one Form 486 for all your Funding Request Numbers (FRNs), or submit separate forms for each FRN.

The form’s header (Block 1) has a space for a new SLC innovation—a bar code so the SLC can track your form. It also contains a space for an “Application Number.” This is a number or designation that YOU select and assign to the form for purposes of identifying and distinguishing it from others. If you’ve filed more than one Form 486 and you need to confer with the SLC to resolve a problem, then you can refer to the correct Form 486 by its number.

Tips for completing the form

If there’s a discrepancy between the information contained in your funding commitment letter and what you believe to be true—for example, if the SPIN listed in the letter is incorrect—you should hold off on filing a 486 until you’ve contacted the SLC via mail. Otherwise, here’s a breakdown of what’s required on Block 2 of the form (“Services Received”):

• Columns A-D: To fill these out, you can use information taken straight from your funding commitment letter. Column A asks you for the number of the Form 471 you’re referring to, which can be found in the header of your commitment letter. Coulmn B asks you for the FRN of each service; Column C for the service provider name, and Column D for the SPIN.

• Column E, “Actual Start Date”: In your funding commitment letter, the line marked “Effective Date of Discount” reflected the date your contract was awarded; here, you’ll tell the SLC when those services actually began. Think of this as the earliest date at which you (and the SLC) should be billed for those services.

• Column F, “Early Termination of Service Date”: You only have to fill this out if the delivery of a service that you’re being billed for on a regular basis, such as telecommunications services or internet access, is terminated before its contract expires.

• Column G, “Contract Extension Termination Date”: Because of the extra six-month period added to the 1998 program cycle, virtually everyone will put something here. DO fill this line in (most likely with “06/30/1999”) for:

(1) Tariff services: Because these services are not under contract, they are extended to the end of the program cycle automatically; but you need to let the SLC know you’re going to be using the same service provider by filling this line in (the SLC won’t just assume this).

(2) Contracted telecommunications services or internet access, if your contract expires between Dec. 31, 1998 and June 30, 1999.

(3) Contracted internal connections, if the contract expires any time before June 30, 1999.

For all the above services, you must proactively extend your contract with your service provider as well.

DO NOT fill in Column G, though, for contracted telecommunications services or internet access if your contract expires after June 30, 1999 (because you’re already covered for the extra six-month period).

At press time, a decision had not yet been made by the FCC whether to allow a contract extension for telecommunications services or internet access in which your contract expires before Dec. 31, 1999. If you fall into this category, check with the SLC to see whether you can extend your contract to June 30, 1999.

• Column H, “Cancel FRN (Yes/No)”: This cancels the discount funding authorized by the SLC for a service and allows no more invoices to be processed on it.

You might terminate a funding request number if you realize that you don’t need a particular service after all (you didn’t get funding for internal connections, for example, so now you can’t purchase internet access), or if you decide to cancel a service partway through its delivery (you’re totally dissatisfied with your service provider, say).

You MUST complete Column H with either “yes” or “no.” Be careful if you check “no,” however; it’s a decision you can’t reverse once the SLC has processed your Form 486.

If you indicate “yes,” then you must leave Columns E-G blank and answer Column I with “no.” If you indicate “no” in Column H, then at least one entry is required among Columns E-G, and /or “yes” is required in Column I.

• Column I, “Applicant to Submit BEAR Form (Yes/No)”: If you’ve made special arrangements with your service provider, you may not need to file a BEAR form; but otherwise, if you’ve already paid for a service in full, you’ll have to submit a BEAR form to receive reimbursement.

Block 3 of Form 486 certifies that you have an approved technology plan. You’re required to fill in all fields of Block 3—particularly Item 7, in which you indicate the agency that certified your plan. The only circumstance in which you can leave this blank is if you applied for plain old telephone service (POTS).

Your original signature is required on the form—it can’t be a copy. To help the SLC verify that your signature is an original, rather than a copy, you may want to sign it in blue ink instead of black.

Processing of Form 486

Form 486 will be returned to you if ANY required fields are left blank, so be sure to supply all required information. If the form is returned to you, you can correct and resubmit it.

According to the SLC, Form 486 problem resolution will be conducted over the phone in most cases, rather than through fax. Once your form is processed, the SLC will notify your service provider that it’s okay to begin invoicing them. The SLC will NOT be notifying applicants—so if you don’t hear anything about your Form 486, don’t panic.

NOTE: Since the SLC doesn’t plan to notify applicants unless there’s a problem with their Form 486, you should submit your Form 486 via “return receipt requested” or certified mail. That way, you have proof that it was delivered to the SLC and proof of the delivery date.

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What if the terms of a contract have changed?

You’ve received your funding commitment letter, but you realize that some of the details about a particular contract have changed since you filled out your Form 471 requesting discounts for that service. Or maybe you want to change those details now. What do you do?

There are most likely two possibilities in which the terms of a contract will change. One is if the details of a service have changed. For example, say you’ve asked for funding for a particular type of server. Now it’s no longer manufactured, or maybe your needs have changed, so you’ve decided to purchase a different type of server instead.

As long as it’s still an eligible service delivered by the same vendor, and as long as you’re not asking for more money from the Universal Service Fund, you don’t have to contact the SLC to make this change, according to SLC’s Mickey Revenaugh.

Similarly, suppose the price on a high-speed data line from your vendor goes down, and now you can afford to purchase three lines for the same price you would have paid for two. Again, as long as you’re not asking for more funding, you’re allowed to stretch existing funding to cover more eligible services.

What you’re not allowed to do is stretch funding for an eligible service to purchase an ineligible one. For example, you can’t purchase a cheaper server to save money for a desktop computer. The SLC will be conducting post-funding audits to make sure you’re not using discounts to purchase any ineligible services.<

You’re also not allowed to transfer costs or services between Funding Request Numbers. For example, say your local phone company offers to expand your local calling area for slightly more money, which would result in a higher local charge but a lower long-distance charge and an overall savings. The way the program is structured now, you can’t save on one item by spending more on another item with a different FRN.

In future years, according to the SLC, the corporation may be able to build more flexibility into the program, but for now each FRN must stand on its own.

The second likely scenario in which the terms of a contract may change is if you change service providers. This might occur if (1) your original service provider goes out of business; (2) your provider can’t live up to the terms of a contract; or (3) you are totally dissatisfied with your service.

According to the SLC, there will be a procedure for you to change service providers if necessary, but at press time the details hadn’t been worked out. You should check with the SLC if you have any questions.

If you do decide to change service providers, you’ll need to choose a vendor who has gone through the FCC’s competitive bidding process, and you’ll need to comply with your own state and local procurement laws. Your new vendor must agree to provide the service for the same amount of money, or you must be willing to pay the difference yourself.

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More Form 486 filing guidance

Now that funding commitment letters are finally on their way to applicants, the SLC has issued a few clarifications of its Form 486 instructions:

Five-day turnaround

For services already in place, the SLC has urged that you file a Form 486 within five (5) business days of receiving your funding commitment letter. While you should send in your Form 486 as quickly as you can, the SLC says it will not “reject” your Form 486 if you don’t send it in within five days. This 5-day turnaround exists only so you can begin to receive discounts as soon as possible.

“10-digit” fields

Though several columns in Block 2 of Form 486 request 10-digit numbers, you may have numbers representing only eight (8) digits. Specifically, Column (A) of Block 2 requests a 10-digit Form 471 Application Number, and Column (B) of Block 2 requests a 10-digit Funding Request Number. If your Form 471 Application Number or any Funding Request Numbers are reported to you as 8-digit numbers in your funding commitment letter, you should add two zeroes to the beginning of the number when filling out your Form 486. For example, Funding Request Number 12345678 would become 0012345678.

The November issue of eRate Update contained a mistake in reference to Form 486. On page 5, we wrote, “You MUST complete Column H with either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Be careful if you check ‘no,’ however; it’s a decision you can’t reverse once the SLC has processed your Form 486.”

This should have read, “Be careful if you check ‘yes.'” By checking ‘yes,’ you’re telling the SLC that you want to cancel your funding request. Checking ‘no’ means that you want to continue with your request. We apologize for any inconvenience this error may have caused.

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