The third year of eRate filing will be upon us quickly. As you develop your technology plan to take advantage of the discounts, consider these two simple techniques to maximize your ability to receive funding. Doing so will save your district money–in some cases, up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

1. Locate your main server farm, private branch exchange (PBX), network operations center, and internet connection at a school with a high discount percentage, preferably the highest.

The eligible equipment required to install these services–including routers, hubs, switches, edge devices, and internet file servers–is classified as “internal connections” under the eRate, and therefore should be considered as site-specific when you calculate your discount. That means it’s eligible for the same discount as the school it’s located in.

Many districts tend to locate the central hub for their internet connections and wide area networks at their high schools, because the high school is considered the focal point of the district and often is centrally located. Using your highest-discount school as the technology hub, however, will ensure that the equipment you need to run the network will be eRate-able.

A good example is the Schenectady City School District, a district of 8,300 students located in upstate New York. Schenectady has an ATM fiber optic backbone running voice, video, and data to its 17 schools with 2,500 PCs. The district received about $4 million in eRate funding in the first year and $2 million in the second year. Its schools’ eRate discounts ranged from 60 to 90 percent.

The main operations center for Schenectady City School District is located at Mont Pleasant Middle School, an 80 percent eRate school. Locating its server farm, PBX, and operations center at this facility as opposed to the senior high school, which has a 70 percent funding rate, saved the district approximately $100,000 over the two-year period.

Keep in mind the need to balance other charges associated with your wide area network, such as leased line charges or installation fees, when choosing your network hub site. If your highest discount school is on the perimeter of your district, it might not be cost-effective–even after discounts–to locate your network hub there.

Though other schools in the district qualified for a 90 percent discount, Schenectady’s Mont Pleasant Middle School was a good choice for the hub site because it was close to the center of the district and still had a high discount rate.

2. If you want to create a larger intranet with surrounding schools to share resources, look at partnering with a high-discount school within another district.

Building a high-speed connection between your highest-discount school and another district’s highest-discount school is very affordable after taking the eRate into account. Again, the end-point equipment needed to install a high-speed link qualifies as “internal connections” and is discountable at the rate of the school it’s located in.

Don’t create a large consortium filing between the districts; instead, submit an application pairing only the highest-discount schools in each district. This lets you maximize your aid by not diluting it with low-eRate participants. It ensures that shared services between the districts, such as leased line charges for the high-speed link, qualify for a higher discount rate as well.

To illustrate: District A has 3,000 students and a 60 percent eRate discount; its highest discount school has 800 students and an 80 percent discount. District B has 4,000 students and a 48 percent discount; its highest discount school has 1,200 students and a 70 percent discount.

If the districts band together and submit a large consortium application for a shared telecommunications link, together they would qualify for a 53 percent discount ([(3,000 x .60) + (4,000 x .48)] / 7,000 = .53). If only the highest-discount schools in each district band together to submit a consortium application, however, they would qualify for a 74 percent discount ([(800 x .80) + (1,200 x .70) / 2,000 = .74) on shared telecommunications services.

Consider this strategy as a general rule when partnering with other districts: Rather than creating a single large consortium filing, it might be to your advantage to submit several smaller applications pairing only the highest-discount schools in each district.

John J. Schmidt is chief technologist for US Wired for Education Inc., a New York-based consulting firm. As the former technology director for the Schenectady City School District, he was responsible for bringing $4 million in eRate discounts to the district in the program’s first year.

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