partners index

AAL Solutions Inc., of Ontario, offers a district-wide student information web solution called eSIS for real-time information access from a centralized location. Visit AAL’s web site: http://www.aalsolutions.com (800) 668-8486 See the ad for AAL Solutions on page 18

AlphaSmart Inc., of Los Gatos, Calif., develops and markets affordable and effective technology solutions for the education market. Visit AlphaSmart’s web site: http://www.alphasmart.com (888) 274-0680 See AlphaSmart’s ad on page 9

America Online, based in Dulles, Va., offers schools a safe and easy internet content program at no cost. Visit the AOL@School web site: http://www.aolschool.com (888) 648-4023 See the ad for AOL@School on page 13

Axonix Corp., of Salt Lake City, provides network storage and video sharing appliances. Visit Axonix’s web site: http://www.axonix.com (800) 866-9797 See the ad for Axonix on page 40

Century Consultants Ltd., of Lakewood, N.J., has been helping school districts manage information in innovative ways since 1977. Visit the Century Consultants web site: http://www.centuryltd.com (800) 852-2566 See the ad for Century Consultants on page 33

The Consortium for School Networking, of Washington, D.C., is a national nonprofit organization that promotes the use of information technologies and the internet in K-12 education to improve teaching and learning. Visit CoSN’s web site: http://www.cosn.org (888) 604-5209 See CoSN’s ad on page 36

CrossTec Corp., of Boca Raton, Fla., is the maker of the award-winning NetOp family of remote management and training software products. Visit the CrossTec web site: http://www.crossteccorp.com (800) 675-0729 See CrossTec’s ad on page 47

EDmin.com, of San Diego, provides a solution for assessment, technology planning, and implementation for schools, districts, and related agencies. Visit EDmin.com’s web site: http://www.edmin.com (800) 748-6696 See EDmin.com’s ad on page 38

Eduventures Inc., of Boston, provides organizations in the corporate, postsecondary, and preK-12 learning markets with analysis and insight necessary to make strategic decisions. Visit the Eduventures web site: http://www.eduventures.org (617) 426-5622 See Eduventures’ ad on page 34

EnGenius Technologies, of Costa Mesa, Calif., provides long-range voice and data technologies for homes, schools, and businesses. Visit the EnGenius Technologies web site: http://www.engeniustech.com (888) 735-7888 See the ad for EnGenius Technologies on page 17

eRate Consulting Services LLC, of Woodstock, Ga., provides up-to-date information and services to help applicants and service providers with the eRate process. Visit the eRate Consulting Services web site: http://www.erateconsulting.com (888) 249-1661 See the ad for e-Rate Consulting Services on page 21

eRate Elite Services Inc., of Owings Mills, Md., is a management firm that specializes in meeting the needs of applicants seeking eRate funding. Visit the eRate Elite Services web site: http://www.erateelite.com (866) ERATE-ES See the ad for eRate Elite Services on page 24

Everyday Wireless LLC, of West Lawn, Pa., researches, develops, and markets wireless technologies that make people’s everyday lives safer and easier. The company’s primary focus is on pupil transportation. Visit the Everyday Wireless web site: http://www.everydaywireless.com (866) 896-1721 See the ad for Everyday Wireless on page 10

eZedia Inc., of Winnipeg, is a leader in digital media software technology, with a product line that includes multimedia authoring tools and other professional enhancement applications. Visit eZedia’s web site: http://www.ezedia.com (877) 408-0195 See the eZedia ad on page 35

Funds for Learning LLC, of Arlington, Va., and Edmond, Okla., is an educational technology consulting firm specializing in the federal eRate program. Visit the Funds for Learning web site: http://www.fundsforlearning.com (877) 752-5222 See the Funds for Learning ad on page 37

Gateway Inc., of San Diego, is a Fortune 250 company focusing on building lifelong relationships with businesses, schools, and consumers through complete technology personalization. Visit the Gateway web site: http://www.gateway.com (888) 888-0294 or (888) 888-0438 See the Gateway ad on pages 2 and 3

Grolier Online, headquartered in Danbury, Conn., and now part of Scholastic Library Publishing, provides schools with a wide array of online reference and research materials, from Encyclopedia Americana to the New Book of Popular Science. Visit the Grolier Online web site: http://go.grolier.com (888) 326-6546 See Grolier’s ad on page 20

Hewlett-Packard Co. North America includes the company’s K-12 education division (part of the Enterprise Systems Group), which offers a host of technology products, services, and solutions to help transform schools into 21st-century learning environments. Visit HP’s K-12 Solutions web site: http://www.hp.com/go/k12solutions (800) 88-TEACH See HP North America’s ad on page 55

IBM Corp., headquartered in Armonk, N.Y, provides powerful tools that help enrich educational programs. Visit the IBM web site: http://www.ibm.com (866) 426-1740 See IBM’s ad on page 15

Macromedia Inc., of San Francisco, provides industry-leading software that empowers internet developers and designers. Visit the Macromedia web site: http://www.macromedia.com (800) 470-7211 See Macromedia’s ad on page 14

Maryland Public Television, of Owings Mills, Md., provides a free financial literacy web site, called Sense and Dollars, as part of Thinkport, a comprehensive online resource for educators and families. Visit the Maryland Public Television web site: http://www.mpt.org (410) 356-5600 See the Maryland Public Television ad on page 39

Microsoft Corp., of Redmond, Wash., is a world leader in software for personal, business, and education use. Visit Microsoft’s web site: http://www.microsoft.com (425) 882-8080 See the Microsoft ads on pages 5, 27, 28, 32, and 48

MiLAN Technology, of Sunnyvale, Calif., is a leading provider of physical-layer networking products and a pioneer in the field of media conversion. Visit MiLAN’s web site: http://www.milan.com (800) 466-4526 See the ad for MiLAN Technology on page 11

Nextel Communications Inc., of Reston, Va., is a leading provider of fully integrated, all-digital wireless service. Visit the Nextel web site: http://www.nextel.com (888) 639-8354 See the Nextel ad on page 19

Pearson Education Technologies, of Mesa, Ariz., is a leading provider of educational software and learning solutions to K-12 schools and adult learners. Visit the Pearson Education Technologies web site: http://www.pearsonedtech.com (888) 627-LEARN See the ad for Pearson Education Technologies on the back cover

ProQuest Information and Learning Co., of Ann Arbor, Mich., is a division of Proquest Co. and the producer of eLibrary, an affordable and user-friendly general reference tool. Visit ProQuest’s web site: http://www.il.proquest.com (800) 521-0600 See the ProQuest ad on page 7

Sagebrush Corp., of Minneapolis, is a fast-growing leader in serving K-12 library media specialists in their efforts to provide access to information, stimulate interest in reading, and improve student performance. Visit the Sagebrush web site: http://www.sagebrushcorp.com (800) 533-5430 See the Sagebrush ad on page 12

SMART Technologies Inc., of Calgary, is a market leader in developing products for shared spaces, including the SMART Board, an electronic interactive whiteboard. Visit the SMART Technologies web site: http://www.smarttech.com (888) 42-SMART See the SMART Technologies ad on page 16

Wireless Information Networks Inc., of Willowbrook, Ill., is entirely focused on wireless LAN and WAN integration and development. Visit the Wireless Information Networks web site: http://www.877mobilan.com (630) 288-0072 See the ad for Wireless Information Networks on page 8

ZT Group International, with offices in New York City and New Jersey, is a leading supplier of computer systems, network services, storage solutions, notebook computers, and peripherals to schools and businesses. Visit the ZT Group web site: http://www.ztgroup.com (866) 984-7687 See the ad for ZT Group on page 41

eSchool News Online Partners

Be sure to visit eSchool News Online http://www.eschoolnews.org

and the School Technology Buyer’s Guide http://www.eschoolnews.org/buyersguide to learn more about these leading companies that believe an informed educator is their best customer:

eRate Consulting Services LLC, of Woodstock, Ga., provides up-to-date information and services to help applicants and service providers with the eRate process. Visit the eRate Consulting Services web site: http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/erate or http://www.erateconsulting.com (888) 249-1661

eZedia Inc., of Winnipeg, is a leader in digital media software technology, with a product line that includes multimedia authoring tools and other professional enhancement applications. Visit eZedia’s web site: http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/multimedia or http://www.ezedia.com (877) 408-0195

TechSmith, of Okemos, Mich., makes software that enables students, faculty, and staff to capture and share text, video, and graphics from software applications and the internet easily. Visit TechSmith’s web site: http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/video or http://www.TechSmith.com (800) 517-3001

Thinkronize Inc., of Cincinnati, is the producer of NetTrekker, an award-winning and trusted search engine for schools. Visit the NetTrekker web site: http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/enhancingcurriculum or http://www.nettrekker.com (877) 517-1125

Web Help Desk, from MacsDesign Studio of Fremont, Calif., is a web-based help desk software solution that easily manages a school district’s computer problems and repairs. Visit the Web Help Desk web site: http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/nrm or http://www.webhelpdesk.prospector.com (866) 701-0227

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Ten tips that will improve your eRate outlook this year

Across the United States, educators are looking forward to participating in the coming eRate funding year with an eagerness normally reserved for root canals and colonoscopies. Although the program admittedly can be complex, you can ease your workload and reduce funding anxieties by following these 10 simple suggestions.

1. Start early.

If you’re reading this and haven’t filed a Form 470, get going, at least for your basic services. Though the Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) establishes a window for filing funding requests, the Form 470 can be filed any time. Waiting until the last minute increases the possibility for mistakes, so do it now. If there are additions or changes later, you can file additional forms.

2. File electronically.

Though many participants complain about various aspects of the eRate program, few can deny that its online filing process is easy and reliable. The ability to save incomplete documents allows you to populate forms with basic information on your district and fill in other information as it becomes available. What makes online filing even better is that the online form cannot be submitted without certain information fields filled in. That means when you successfully submit your form, it meets the minimum processing standards established by the SLD. That’s especially important if you’re filing close to a deadline.

3. Certify immediately.

All of the online forms need to be certified after submission, either using a personal identification number (PIN) assigned to you or with an original signature on paper. We advise clients to apply for a PIN, but whichever way you go, do it immediately. Wait a day, and you’ll forget about it as your regular job closes back in around you.

4. List someone from your school or district as the contact person on your Form 470.

As consultants, we appear as the listed contact for most forms and for audits and reviews, but we always advise our client schools to list themselves on their Form 470.

There are two reasons for this. The first is pretty obvious: The school district is the best source of information about the specific telecommunications needs it has listed on the form. The second reason is that it prevents a school from inadvertently listing someone who is either a service provider or is linked to a service provider as the contact, which is a sure-fire way to get rejected (see box at right).

So why not list your eRate consultant on the Form 470? From our viewpoint, we provide expertise in the eRate process and have no business being involved in any purchasing deliberations other than answering eligibility questions and ensuring compliance. Keeping our name off the Form 470 keeps us out of the bidding and selection process.

5. Check your Form 470 before you sign a contract.

You might hear very faint–but blood-curdling–screams each summer and wonder where they come from. We can tell you. They come from superintendents across the United States whose funding requests were denied because they signed a contract less than 28 days after filing their Form 470. And don’t say, “How dumb can you get?” It happens all the time.

Before you sign any contracts, make sure the 28-day posting period for Form 470 has elapsed. An easy way to do this is to check your Form 470 as it appears on the SLD’s web site. It will state the earliest date you can sign a contract for items listed on that form. It’s there for the vendor to see, too, but your salesperson might forget this in his anxiety to have you sign so he can use his commission check for a Boxster down payment.

6. Gather documentation materials beforehand.

Before you file a funding request, do your homework and assemble the documentation for that request. Make notes on how you got the request figure if it’s not exactly what is on the bill; it’s probably going to be six months before your request is reviewed, and you’ll need something to jog your memory.

Taking a wild guess and figuring that it will all get sorted out during the review process is a recipe for disaster. Overestimate the figure, and you’ll get denied because an excessive amount of the request was ineligible or because you were unable to provide documentation to justify the request. The same goes for expenses that are clearly ineligible: Get rid of them up front. You’ll sleep better–and fare better in the review.

7. Take advantage of the RAL grace period.

The SLD issues a Receipt Acknowledgment Letter (RAL) to let you know that your Form 471 has been certified and accepted by the agency. You have three weeks from the RAL issue date to change basic information in the form, correct errors made by the SLD, change funding categories, and lower (but not raise) the dollar amounts you’ve requested.

If you did sloppy work putting together a Form 471, you can correct many of your most egregious errors during this time. Unfortunately, most people are so glad to have the forms submitted on time that they don’t take advantage of this grace period; later, after getting a funding denial, they wish they had.

8. Keep it together.

One funding year requires a lot of paperwork, and it helps if you can keep it together. At eRate Consulting Services, we use something called a Classification Folder. It looks like a file folder, but it has six “pages” with metal prongs for holding two-hole punched paper. You can use each page for a different form and related correspondence. Keeping everything for a particular funding year in one place–forms, correspondence, and documentation–makes it easy to locate what you need, even if it’s from a previous funding year.

9. Use the SLD’s web site.

It’s a well-organized source of information and tools, where you can learn the daily status of your Form 471, file a Form 486 online, or read an in-depth paper on wide-area network eligibility. The SLD also can answer your questions by eMail or telephone. Use these resources to gather information and reduce your work time.

10. Use someone like us.

If you’ve read these tips and still feel that eRate processing makes your brain hurt–or that you’re genetically unable to file forms more than 10 minutes before deadline–hire an eRate consultant to help you. You’ll reduce your workload and avoid unpleasant surprises at funding time.

Bob and Georgia Morrow are a husband-and-wife team who handle client schools for eRate Consulting Services LLC, an Atlanta-based company that provides consulting services to both applicants and service providers. Bob spent 31 years with BellSouth, while Georgia has handled provisioning duties for a number of telephone and internet firms, including Earthlink predecessor Mindspring.

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Some eRate changes likely this year

The Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co., which administers the $2.25 billion-a-year eRate program, expects to announce some administrative changes for the 2004 program year, but says more specific information will follow.

“We anticipate some changes, but we are not ready to talk about them,” SLD spokesman Mel Blackwell said. “We haven’t got all the details yet.”

For instance, the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which has been investigating eRate waste, fraud, and abuse during the past year, plans to hold several hearings on the eRate this fall.

“The hearings that we anticipate happening are out of the investigations committee,” which is unusual for most hearings, said Leslie Harris, legislative consultant for the Consortium for School Networking, during a Sept. 23 webcast called “eRate and Other Federal Issues: What You Need to Know.”

eRate insiders say applicants should watch for forthcoming hearings and rulemaking that might affect the eRate as early as this year.

Sara Fitzgerald, of eRate consulting firm Funds for Learning, said in an interview, “It’s unclear when [the hearings] are going to take place and how they will be framed. A lot depends on who they invite to speak. They may highlight best practices or not-best practices.”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which oversees the eRate and is responsible for making new rules, is developing a debarment process to ban “bad actors” from participating. Already, one companyConnect2 Internet Networks of New York has been banned, and there might be another debarment soon (see http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4650).

The debarments “demonstrate that law enforcement is moving forward to address cases where outright fraud was found,” Fitzgerald said.

The FCC also will be considering recommendations proposed by a special eRate Task Force formed by the SLD to help prevent further waste, fraud, and abuse in the program. The proposals most likely to be adopted would change the discount bracket and set a ceiling on the amount of funding for internal connections an entity can receive, Harris said.

However, it’s unlikely these recommendations would affect the program this year. “These changes are on the table, but there is a fairly stringent process that would have to happen to makes these changes [a reality],” Harris said.

Also, the House Subcommittee on Tele-communications and the Internet is holding hearings to decide how best to revise the Universal Service Fund, which pays for the eRate and other programs. The Universal Service Fund is under-funded, because its funding mechanism is based on a world that used landline phones, not cell phones.

As Congress considers how to revise the way funds are collected from telecommunications companies to pay for universal service, eRate advocates will be watching closely to see how any changes might affect the eRate.

Other program changes announced earlier this year will take effect during the coming application cycle. For example, beginning next July, service providers must give applicants a choice of what kind of payment method they would like to use. Applicants can choose between receiving discounted bills or paying in full and then being reimbursed.

Regarding eRate-eligible services, the FCC recently changed the definition of “educational purpose” to mean anything that happens on school property to support education, Fitzgerald said. That means items such as cell-phone service for school bus drivers and telephone lines used to dial directly to police and fire officials when an alarm signals are now eligible.

Voice mail also is conditionally eligible starting this year. “The FCC said voice-mail services should be treated much the same as eMail services,” Fitzgerald said, adding that further clarification of this ruling is expected later this fall.

Applicants are strongly advised to download a copy of the revised Eligible Services List that was posted on the SLD web site Oct. 10, and contact their state eRate coordinator if they have any questions.

See these related links:

School and Libraries Division
http://www.sl.universalservice.org

Federal Communications Commission
http://www.fcc.gov

Five sure-fire ways to kiss your funding bye-bye

Want to make sure your funding requests are denied? Want to make sure theres practically no chance for a successful appeal? Its easy! Just do one of these five things:

  • Sign a contract less than 28 days after you filed your Form 470 listing that service.
  • List a service provider as a contact on your Form 470.
  • Submit a funding request for a service that was not listed on a Form 470.
  • Miss the Form 471 filing window.
  • Fail to certify a Form 470 by the close of the Form 471 filing window.
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    How not to hate the eRate:

    After a year of congressional inquiries, investigations, and multiple summits to address curbing waste, fraud, and abuse, winds of change will be blowing your way this fall. As it does every year, the eRate will have a few “new and improved” rules to follow this season. With some common sense, though, you can navigate the ever-changing currents. Here are 10 tips to keep your eRate ship afloat in 2004.

    1. Read.

    Yes, believe it or not, the Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) web site actually has a wealth of helpful information. The trick is finding the time to read about all the changes each season. One thing to put on your reading list for sure is the SLD’s new Eligible Services List.

    If you’re a real eRate geek, you can roam the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) web site for eRate decisions and orders. Alternatively, eratecentral.com has an excellent section devoted to FCC decisions that is easy to understand and is indexed by category.

    2. Document.

    One word that usually strikes panic in people is “audit.” In the eRate world, not keeping proper documentation on file in case of an audit can lead to a Commitment Adjustment. If you keep decent records and follow the rules, however, you’ll be fine.

    You must keep documentation on file for five years. Generally, if funds need to be recovered, the SLD will seek recovery from the service provider. But the service provider might recover those funds from the applicant if services already have been rendered.

    Although this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive account, some things you’ll want to make sure you keep on file include all requests for proposals, bids, filed forms, bid evaluations, contracts, budgets, National School Lunch Program (NSLP) statistics, invoices, and any correspondence related to the bidding, selection, and/or eRate process.

    3. Make the SLD’s job easier.

    Although applying for the eRate can be tedious, it might help to consider what it’s like being on the receiving end. Reviewers probably would be happy to put your file at the bottom of the stack if it’s a crazy mess, or put you through the ringer if attachments are illegible. Thus, one of the keys to success and expedience is to get organized with your Item 21 attachments.

    During review, you’ll often be asked to verify your discount based on NSLP data. If you’ve been asked for this in the past, you should include a copy of a recent NSLP claim form with your attachments.

    Using the SLD’s Form 471 cost calculation grid with representative phone bills or quotes can help you get organized and can help the SLD, too. Be sure to give brief, yet informative, descriptions of the services you’re requesting, and leave a manageable paper trail. If contracts are signed, be sure to attach a copy.

    4. Plan and budget wisely.

    The SLD will be taking a closer look at technology plans in the future and is scrutinizing budgets for matching funds. Concerns have been raised by the SLD’s Waste, Fraud, and Abuse Task Force about the need for applications to align more closely with applicants’ technology plans.

    Although it’s unlikely to know in fall 2003 exactly what your budget will be in July 2004, making a reasonable effort to draft a budget that estimates next year’s matching funds for eRate-eligible services is crucial to success. A denial description that has become more prevalent in recent years is that applicants “[did not] have funds available to pay the non-discounted share.” Therefore, try to earmark all necessary matching funds before you apply.

    5. Collaborate.

    A common misconception is that forming a consortium means you have to give up all rights to filing for the eRate to the consortium leader. In fact, a consortium can be quite flexible and can allow you to collaborate with other entities on some services while applying individually for others. The advantages of economies of scale are obvious in these uncertain fiscal times. Not only can a consortium arrangement drive service provider costs down, but it also might reduce your administrative costs. Just make sure you have Letters of Agency on file for all members before you post a Form 470 on behalf of a consortium.

    6. Attend class–and do your homework.

    Many states offer applicant training sessions each fall. If that’s the case in your state, your state eRate coordinator will have the latest scoop from the Train-the-Trainer conference in late September. Armed with information directly from the horse’s mouth, as well as valuable insight from the State eRate Coordinators’ Alliance, your state leader should be able to help you attack your eRate homework.

    Better yet, ask the SLD to do a little homework for you. If you eMail a specific question to the SLD at question@sl.universalservice.org, the agency can research it for you and usually give you a more definitive answer than by phone. Although the SLD hotline is a good source for simple questions, your best bet is eMail for complex issues or gray areas. The SLD typically assigns more experienced staff to tackle the tougher eMail questions; also, you’ll have a paper trail to support you during an appeal if you’re given the wrong advice.

    There are a few caveats, though. The SLD won’t pre-approve new technologies that don’t clearly fall into a specific eligible service category. Also, as it stands now, the staff answering SLD eMails aren’t the same people who review applications. So if your eMail comes back “thumbs up,” include it in your application attachments, just in case.

    7. Learn from others’ mistakes, not your own.

    If you’ve discovered the SLD’s data request tool, you might have noticed that one of the most common reasons for denials is breaking the 30-percent ineligible services rule–where if more than 30 percent of your application requests ineligible services, the entire application is denied. Aside from reading the Eligible Services List cover to cover and accurately interpreting the 400-plus eRate appeal decisions since the 1990s, a good way to learn what products and services the SLD might or might not approve is by observing who is being denied for what types of requests this year.

    8. Shop around.

    The SLD has stated repeatedly: Price doesn’t need to be the only factor in selecting a service provider, but it has to be the primary factor. Simply enough, put cost (and only cost) at the top of your rubric when evaluating bids. You can give whatever weight you’d like to other metrics, so long as cost is the greatest component–even if only by a few percentage points.

    9. If it sounds to good to be true …

    Two promises to beware of are (1) the “free lunch” and (2) the “free” consultant. Essentially, there are no such things. If a service provider offers free services or equipment, claiming that the eRate pays for everything, that is a violation of program rules. If a consultant tells you his services are free, more than likely–unless he works for a state agency or a well-established nonprofit organization–there is something wrong. Ask for references, and make sure consultants disclose any conflicts of interest. If you learn of anything that seems out of line, contact the SLD. The “Free Services Advisory” section of the SLD web site has more information on things to look out for.

    10. When in doubt, break it out.

    With more than 41,000 applications to review this year, the SLD uses the 30-percent rule to process applications more quickly and efficiently–certainly something everyone wants. That 30-percent cushion still gives you a “safe harbor” for inadvertent mistakes, but don’t push it. Be sure to factor out all ineligible costs, and break out any questionable items as a separate funding request. If you’re still not sure, ask the SLD or refer to the eRate “gospel,” the Eligible Services List.

    Brian Davidson is the former state eRate coordinator for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. He is also the founder and president of Clarity Solutions Inc., a vendor-neutral eRate consulting firm in Raleigh, N.C. You can reach Brian at brian@erate4schools.com.

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