Software error costs Oklahoma district $3.5 million

The Muskogee, Okla., School District owes the state more than $3.5 million because a software program inflated the district’s enrollment figures and caused the state to overpay the district for two years, officials said Jan. 19.

Two state officials sent to Muskogee to study the problem told the state Education Board that the district owes the state more than $3.5 million. Harriot La Grone, director of aid for the state Education Department, said the district’s administrative software counted students who started after the first day of school as being there the entire year, without district officials’ knowledge.

The inflated attendance and enrollment figures were sent to the state, causing the state to pay the district more money than it was entitled to receive. State aid is based on average daily enrollment or membership.

The state overpaid Muskogee nearly $1.7 million in 1997 and nearly $1.9 million in 1998. State Schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett suggested the district repay the money over several years to avoid a funding crisis.

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Newslines–Teens are taking drugs purchased over internet

Philadelphia officials are grappling with what they call the latest trend in teen substance abuse: ingesting legal drugs like dextromethorphan (DXM) purchased over the internet.

DXM–an ingredient in over-the-counter cough syrups–is easy to get but when misused can be just as deadly as any illegal substance, said Sgt. Philip Bueki, a Pennsylvania state Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) coordinator.

In January, four Conestoga High School sophomores were hospitalized after ingesting DXM purchased through the internet by two classmates. The four, all girls, were treated and released.

While DXM doses found in cough syrup can alter the body’s chemistry to the point where people can get a buzz or feel light-headed, the drug has never been regulated because of its medicinal use. The average dose in Robitussin is about 10 mg, but people who abuse DXM might take up to 1,000 mg, authorities said.

A search on the internet produced more than a dozen sites devoted to DXM, including those that advertise the sale of the drug and others touting its effects and recommending music to listen to while taking it.

“This is a new area that needs to be addressed,” Mike Cullin, a Lower Merion, Pa., DARE officer told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “We’re realizing there needs to be a joint effort between the schools and the police to teach kids all we know about what is out there.”

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New student handbook warns against beepers in class and downloading porn

When Connecticut’s last public school handbook was issued in 1985, few students had their own telephones and few schools were equipped with computers. Of course, times have changed.

The new version of Connecticut Public School Students’ Handbook on Rights and Responsibilities, issued in January, deals with such issues as the use of beepers and cell phones at school and the use of school computers to download pornography from the internet.

Students are advised that school officials have the right to search their personal lockers if they are suspected of containing contraband. They also are informed that “computer use is designated for educational purposes only.”

The handbook was put together by a students’ group, the Connecticut State Student Advisory Council on Education, with help from state officials.

Molly McDowell, a 17-year-old council member from Kent, presented the handbook to members of the state Board of Education this week at the board’s monthly meeting.

“We’ll see that a couple of copies are sent to every school in the state and to each superintendent,” she said.

She said the council thought it was time Connecticut students had an updated book that dealt with contemporary issues, such as web sites, drug policy, and suicide prevention, among other things.

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FYI: This Month’s Links

3Com

http://www.3com.com

American Library Association

http://www.ala.org

Council of Chief State School Officers

http://www.ccsso.org

Education Networks of America

http://www.ednetamerica.com

Federal Communications Commission

http://www.fcc.gov

Memphis City School District

http://www.memphis-schools. k12.tn.us

Metropolitan Regional Educational Service Agency

http://www.mresa.org

Milwaukee Public Schools

http://www.milwaukee.k12. wi.us

National Center for Education Statistics

http://nces.ed.gov

Tennessee Department of Education

http://www.state.tn.us/ education

Schools and Libraries Division

http://www.slcfund.org

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Answers to questions from eRate Update readers

Q: Are you sure that leasing your wide area network can be funded by the eRate? At the workshops I attended, some put on by eRate staff, we asked that question and got a big “NO.” If you have additional information on this issue, I’d be interested.

A: Funds for the creation of a WAN are not eligible for discount as “internal connections,” because that category only applies to the routers, hubs, switches, wiring, etc. within a single school building. <

But if you apply as a district and you lease lines from a telecommunications carrier to connect individual school buildings (such as T1 lines, for example), then you can qualify for a discount on the monthly line charges you pay to that carrier under the category “telecommunications service,” just as your monthly phone bill can be discounted under the same category. (The one-time “activation fee” for such leased lines also can discounted as a telecommunications service.)

This interpretation of the rules has been supported by the funding commitments that have been made for the 1998-99 funding year. For example, Ken Wasmund, director of technology for the Birmingham (Ala.) Public Schools, confirmed that his district will save $800,000 in discounts on leased line charges for the district’s WAN this year, based on his 1998 funding commitment decision letter from the SLD. And Milwaukee Public Schools, which is featured on page 1 of this issue, saved more than $3 million on the leased line charges and equipment for its WAN as well.

Q: If we go by our free and reduced school lunch program (from three school sites: elementary, middle, and high school), we are at a 37 percent discount. If we go by our free and reduced school breakfast program (from two school sites: elementary and middle school), we are up to a 51 percent discount. Is it okay to use the figures from the breakfast program?

A: Your district’s aggregate discount percentage must be calculated using the total percentage of the district’s students who are eligible for free and reduced lunches, which would include the high school students in the calculation as well.

But note that the rules say “eligible” students, not “participating” students. Because the theoretical calculation of your discount using just the elementary and middle school breakfast program is so much higher, it’s possible that many of your high school students may be eligible for free or reduced lunches, but either choose not to take them or don’t know they are eligible. (For many high school students, there’s a stigma attached to the free or reduced lunch program; others may just bring their lunches to school every day.) You can include any students who are eligible, but don’t participate, in your calculation, as long as you can support your figures.

One way to do that is to use the participation figures for your breakfast program to calculate the eligibility of high school students. (This assumes that both the breakfast and lunch programs have the same criteria for participation.) For example, for any child who participates in the breakfast program and who has a sibling in high school living in the same household, you can assume that the older sibling is eligible for the lunch program as well (because they have the same family income level). The SLD will accept this as proof of eligibility, if needed.

Q: With almost no time left, I am looking for simple sample technology plans for eRate filings. I’d also like to know the avenues in California for technology plan approval for private schools.

A: The SLD has a section on its web site that addresses technology plans:

http://www.slcfund.org/Reference/ techplans.asp

It includes a list of guidelines—areas you’ll want to cover with your plan—as well as questions and answers. While you have a great deal of flexibility in drafting a plan, it should address these five areas:

1. Establish clear goals and a realistic strategy for using telecommunications and information technology to improve education or library services.

2. Have a professional development strategy to ensure that staff know how to use the new technologies to improve education or library services.

3. Include an assessment of the telecommunication services, hardware, software, and other services that will be needed to improve education or library services.

4. Provide for a sufficient budget to acquire and maintain the hardware, software, professional development, and other services that will be needed to implement the strategy for improved education or library services.

5. Include an evaluation process that enables the school or library to monitor progress toward the specified goals and make mid-course corrections in response to new developments and opportunities as they arise.

The following resources may also be helpful in offering sample technology plans to use as models:

National Center for Technology Planning

http://www.nctp.com<

Excellence and Equity Technology Network<

http://www.rmcdenver.com/eetnet/default.htm

American Association of School Administrators’ technology planning resources

http://www.aasa.org/Issues/TechPlans/

As for approval of a private school plan, there’s information on the technology planning page of the SLD’s web site (URL above). Some state departments of education also approve private school plans. You might also check with any national or state private school agency, like the National Association of Independent Schools (http://www.nais.org), or you can contact the SLD’s help line at (888) 203-8100 if you have further questions.

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Ruling upholds ban on funding of state-subsidized networks

The FCC has denied a petition by the state of Iowa asking that the Iowa Communications Network (ICN), which offers subsidized telecommunications services to the state’s schools and libraries, be eligible for direct universal service support under the eRate program. The ruling, which was issued Feb. 18, reaffirms the agency’s position that federal eRate funds cannot be used to support state education networks.

As a state-subsidized network, ICN provides schools and other beneficiaries with telecommunications services at steep discounts. For example, ICN charges schools and libraries $5 per hour for video rates that normally cost $75. Because ICN offers telecommunications services to other state entities as well—such as businesses and private organizations—the state argued it should be eligible for direct support like any other “telecommunications carrier,” such as GTE or Sprint.

In issuing its ruling, the FCC argued that the phrase “telecommunications carrier” refers only to a “common carrier” for purposes of universal service—that is, an entity that provides telecommunications services on an indiscriminate basis. In contrast, the agency said, ICN serves clients on an individualized basis, determines whether and on what terms to serve each client, and is under no regulatory compulsion to serve all clients indiscriminately—and is thus a “private carrier.”

Iowa had argued that an unfavorable ruling would put the state’s schools and libraries at a disadvantage when compared to other states’ schools. But the FCC noted that the competitive bidding process required by the eRate assures that Iowa schools will take their services from the most competitive provider—whether that provider is ICN or another entity.

While states are barred from receiving direct reimbursement for discounted telecommunications services provided over their own networks, the FCC noted, states can receive support by acting as the collective purchasing agent for their schools’ and libraries’ telecommunications services, internet access, or internal connections.

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Updates to the appeals process

Now that the last wave of 1998 funding commitment letters has been issued, the SLD has begun to focus significant resources on the appeals process. If you disagree with a funding decision and want to appeal it, you should note the following:

1. All appeals must be made in writing within 30 days of the date your funding commitment letter was issued. The address for appeals is: Letter of Appeal, Schools and Libraries Division, Box 125-Correspondence Unit, 100 S. Jefferson Road, Whippany, NJ 07981. Appeals cannot be submitted via fax or eMail.

2. Directions for how to file an appeal are available via the SLD’s toll-free fax on demand service at (800) 959-0733 (request Document #511) or via its web site: http://www.slcfund.org/reference/

3. According to current rules, no funds may be expended for a particular line-item request (designated by a Funding RequestNumber, or FRN) while it is under appeal. For example, if the SLD provides a funding commitment to you for an FRN at an 80 percent discount, but you think you’re entitled to a 90 percent discount and file an appeal on that basis, the SLD will not be able to pay any invoices on that FRN while your appeal is pending—even for the undisputed 80 percent amount. The SLD has filed an ex parte motion with the FCC to change this rule, but as of March 12, no decision had been made by the FCC.

4. When you submit an appeal, you should receive a letter of acknowledgement from the SLD. The agency’s goal is to reach a decision on each appeal within 45 days of receiving it.

5. If you have questions about how to file an appeal, call the SLD’s help line at (888) 203-8100.

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First-year BEAR Form filing extended to June 30, 1999

At the request of both applicants and service providers, the SLD will accept Billed Entity Applicant Reimbursement (BEAR) Forms for reimbursement on bills that you’ve paid in full through the end of the first program year (June 30, 1999). Previously, the BEAR Form (FCC Form 472) was intended to provide coverage only through Dec. 31, 1998.

For telecommunications services and internet access, the extended BEAR process is available at the option of your service provider. Your vendors can choose whether they want to incorporate discounts into your bills before the end of the first program year, or bill you in full and provide reimbursements using the BEAR process. Consult with your vendors to find out how you should proceed from now until June 30.

For internal connections, the extended BEAR process is available at the applicant’s option. You can choose to pay in full for approved services and then use the BEAR process to seek reimbursement, or you can ask your internal connections providers to incorporate discounts into your bills.

For services delivered, billed, and paid for through Dec. 31, 1998, you should submit your BEAR Form as soon as possible once you’ve gotten your funding commitment letter and you’ve submitted your Form 486 (with Column I of Block 2 marked “yes”) for that service. You can file your BEAR Form and Form 486 at the same time, but don’t file a BEAR Form before you’ve sent in your Form 486.

For services delivered and paid for from Jan. 1, 1999 to June 30, 1999, you have two options: You can choose to submit two quarterly BEAR Forms or one BEAR Form covering the entire six-month period.

Under the quarterly option, you’d submit one BEAR Form by May 15 for services provided, billed, and paid for between Jan. 1 and March 31, and a second BEAR Form by Aug. 15 for services provided, billed, and paid for between April 1 and June 30.

Under the six-month option, you’d submit one BEAR Form by Aug. 15 for all services provided, billed, and paid for between Jan. 1 and June 30.

In either case, all BEAR Forms are due no later than Aug. 15, 1999 for the first program year.

BEAR Form tips

1. The BEAR Form can only be used to request discounts on bills you have actually paid through June 30, 1999, and only up to the dollar amount of your total funding commitment for that particular service.

2. You must complete a separate BEAR Form for each service provider listed on your funding commitment letter.

3. Within each BEAR Form, you should complete only one line of Block 2 for each Funding Request Number (FRN) that you’re seeking reimbursement on. If you’ve received and paid for several months of service for that FRN, you should add those monthly amounts together on one line of Block 2, Column 14, subtract any ineligible costs, then apply your approved discount to arrive at your total in Column 15. Use additional lines of Block 2 only if you have other FRNs associated with the same service provider.

4. Your service provider must sign Block 4 of your BEAR Form, but this signature does not have to be an original. You should complete everything on your BEAR Form except Block 4, make a copy of the whole form, and send a copy to your service provider. Your service provider will sign Block 4 and return it to you to attach to your completed BEAR, which you’ll then submit to the SLD. Don’t submit your BEAR Form without a service provider signature; it will simply be returned to you.

5. Each service provider has designated a BEAR Form contact to handle your paperwork. This is the person you should send your BEAR Form to in order to get your service provider’s signature. For help in finding the right contact, call the SLD’s help line at (888) 203-8100 or use the SPIN/BEAR Contact database on the SLD’s web site:<

http://www.slcfund.org/Forms/SPIN_

6. When the SLD has approved your BEAR Form, it will send you and your service provider a BEAR Notification Letter. The agency will then issue a check to the service provider within 20 days. Within 10 days of receiving the check (but before cashing it), your service provider must provide your reimbursement. If your reimbursement is in the form of a check, it will be sent to the address and contact you listed on your most recently filed Form 486.

7. Your service provider may need additional information from you about your account and the services for which you’ve requested discounts in order to process your reimbursement. Service providers can require you to provide such information; but if they feel you have to complete additional paperwork—as opposed to providing the information verbally—it’s reasonable to expect them to assist you.

You should read carefully the BEAR Form Instructions before completing the form. If you need any additional assistance, call the SLD’s help line at (888) 203-8100.

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FCC considers motion to recognize state and local procurement laws

On Feb. 22, the American Library Association (ALA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) filed an ex parte motion with the FCC asking the agency to reconsider some of its positions on the eRate that interfere with state and local procurement practices.

In the document, the ALA and CCSSO pointed to a series of discrepancies between the program’s rules and the way many state and local governments do business. The motion’s aim is to acknowledge and honor the laws that already exist at the state and local level to insure the integrity of the bidding and procurement process.

The suggestions made in the document included:

(1) Allow applicants to file a Form 470 anytime before a funding year begins. This request would accommodate applicants whose state or local procurement laws require a longer or more complex bidding process than the current process allows.

(2) Allow applicants to file a Form 471 before a contract is signed but also before the SLD’s Program Integrity Assurance (PIA) review begins. This would let applicants file a Form 471 once an agreement is made with a vendor to sign a contract, but also give both parties time to work out the fine points of a contract without rushing to sign it before the window closes.

(3) Allow voluntary extensions of existing contracts, as long as the extension is within the terms of the RFP or the resulting contract.

(4) Allow a change of vendor when state or local rules permit it after a funding commitment is made.

In addition, the ALA and CCSSO asked the FCC to allow changes of service within a Funding Request Number (FRN), as long as the changes are within the scope of the original bidding process or come as a result of a master contract change.

Finally, the filing asked the FCC to reconsider its current policy to deny any FRN for which more than 50 percent of the services were ineligible. The ALA and CCSSO argued that because applicants were not advised they needed to split services among the three categories, the appeals process should be used to appropriately classify services and approve those services that meet the rules of eligibility.

The FCC is expected to consider these suggestions as part of their current review of two additional items:

(1) Extending the grace period for using eRate funds for one-time expenditures to either Sept. 1, 1999 for use or Dec. 31, 1999 for payment; and

(2) Allowing contracts that expired before Dec. 31, 1998 to be eligible for the remainder of first-year funding. If accepted, the FCC would allow contract extensions to fully utilize first-year eRate funding.

A decision on these points was expected by March 18. Check the SLD’s web site for the latest information on these requests.

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Nine simple steps to a winning application

1. Read the SLD’s updated list of eligible and ineligible services before you apply.

To clarify some of the gray areas in its list of eligible and ineligible services, the SLD plans to issue an updated version before the close of the application window. This updated list is based on the funding decisions the SLD made on first-year applications. Though it was still pending approval from the FCC at press time, the list should be available on the SLD’s web site by the time you read this and should give you a clearer understanding of what is eligible for funding and what is not.

2. Apply for everything you’re entitled to.

Make sure you take full advantage of the eRate, for everything from plain old telephone service to any internal wiring projects you plan to do this summer. Some of last year’s applicants applied only for discounts on internet access or internal connections because they didn’t realize that basic charges for local and long-distance telephone service were covered as well. Checking the updated list of eligible and ineligible services might also reveal services that you didn’t know were eligible.

Although you can’t apply for any services that weren’t included on a Form 470 and then posted to the SLD’s web site for 28 days during the current filing window, some states have filed a Form 470 for services covered under a statewide master contract and you might be able to take advantage of these discounted services if you haven’t already filed a Form 470 for them yourself. For example, Virginia schools can file a Form 471 requesting voice, video, and data services purchased from NET.WORK. VIRGINIA’s master contract with the state.

3. Apply online to guarantee receipt of your application by April 6.

As the first program year demonstrated, if you fail to submit your application within the filing window, you’ll most likely be out of luck. Don’t let that happen to you in Year Two. Beginning this year, you have the option of filing your Form 471 online from a Windows-based PC. If possible, you should take advantage of this option to guarantee receipt of your Form 471 on or before April 6.

Keep in mind that if you apply online, you still have to submit hard copies of certain items to the SLD via mail, such as your discount calculation worksheet and signature page. These items must also be received by the SLD by April 6 if you want to be considered “in the window.” Though filing online may give you extra time to complete your application, make sure you send these items in on time—or all your work may be for naught.

If you cannot or choose not to file online, make sure you give yourself enough time to complete and submit your application so that it is received—not postmarked—by 11:59 p.m. EST on April 6. Be sure to send everything via certified mail or return receipt requested—including your signature page if you apply online—so you have proof of its arrival.

4. Calculate your discount properly.

You should calculate your discount based on the percentage of your students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, not the percentage of students who actually participate in the program. The participation figures are usually lower—especially at the high school level, where there’s often a stigma attached to the program.

One way to identify students who are eligible, but not participating, is to 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 free or reduced lunches as well. Another way is to use student participation figures from other federal or state government programs.

If you’re applying as a school district or consortium, remember also to calculate your discount as a weighted average of the discount percentages of each individual school or library, not as a straight average. For example, if your district has three schools that qualify for 40, 60, and 80 percent discounts respectively, your district’s average discount isn’t just 60 percent. Instead, you’d multiply each school’s discount by the number of students in that school, then add those figures and divide by the total number of students in the district to get a weighted average discount.

5. Recognize the difference between “shared” and “site-specific” services.

Any service you can tie to a particular site should be listed as “site-specific” for the purpose of calculating its discount, and services that are shared among multiple buildings are considered “shared.” Telecommunications services are often shared, so to calculate their discount you’d use the average discount percentage of the district. Internal connections are almost always site-specific, so to calculate their discount you’d use the discount percentage of the specific school to which the services apply. (One exception would be a district-level internet file server that supports local schools; this would be considered a shared service.)

6. List different service providers under separate FRNs.

Each Funding Request Number (FRN) on your Form 471 should pertain to services offered by only one service provider. You should therefore remember to list local and long-distance telephone service under separate FRNs, for example. Although you may only get one phone bill each month that encompasses both services, they are actually provided by different service providers with different service provider identification numbers (SPINs).

7. List each product or service under its own FRN as much as possible.

This is particularly important if you’re applying for any services that you’re not sure will be covered under the eRate. The SLD makes funding decisions on a line-by-line basis, so assigning each distinct service its own FRN whenever possible will guarantee that if a request for one service is rejected, that rejection won’t affect the status of any other requests you’ve made.

8. Separate eligible from ineligible uses properly.

If any service that you’re applying for is shared by an ineligible entity, the portion of the cost that is shared by the ineligible entity must be factored out of your discount calculation. For example, if a phone line is shared between a parochial school and the church administrative office, only the portion of the service relating to the school would be eligible for discount.

Likewise, if any service that you’re applying for contains an ineligible component, the cost of the ineligible component must be factored out as well. For example, a satellite dish is ineligible unless it is leased as part of a telecommunications service. If you purchase satellite-based internet access from a service provider and are charged a one-time activation fee that includes the cost of buying and installing a dish, you must subtract this cost from the total service charge before calculating your discount.

To separate eligible from ineligible services within each funding request, you can use the SLD’s “Form 471 Optional Pre-Discount Cost Calculation Grid,” available on the agency’s web site:

http://www.slcfund.org/Reference/471_App_Guid_Docs/471ORcostgrid.asp

http://www.slcfund.org/Reference/471_App_Guid_Docs/471ORcostgridinst.asp

9. Check your application against the SLD’s minimum processing standards.

Another advantage to submitting your Form 471 online is that the electronic form prompts you to complete each field in full, thereby preventing you from submitting an incomplete application. That’s not the case with a printed copy of the form, though. If your application isn’t filled out completely, it will be sent back to you automatically—meaning you’ll lose your place in the window while you supply the missing information. To avoid an automatic rejection, check your completed application carefully against the SLD’s minimum processing standards listed on its web site before submitting it:

http://www.slcfund.org/Reference/471_App_Guid_Docs/471mps.asp

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