E-rate is a Federal Government program established in 1996 to help schools and libraries improve internet and telecommunications in their facilities. Schools can receive a discount in these services based on the number of students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch. A strict process exists for schools districts to submit for this federal funding program. In the fall, the district must prepare a technology plan, a Request for Proposals (RFP) on the plan, and file a 470 form. In the spring, the district compiles the bids and presents the bids to the school board for approval. Contracts are then signed and form 471 must be filed. In the past, Garfield School District has received about 72%-76% discounts on internet and telecommunications contracted services. The FCC designates the application process to promote the most cost effective and accurate solutions to be eligible for E-rate. Schools are required to select the vendor with the lowest bid. Districts must post their plans on the USAC web page for 28 days to request RFP from anyone in the world who would like to be a provider of services to facilitate the plan submitted by the district. Last fall, Garfield School District was approached by South Central employees asking us to consider moving from an old Centrex phone system. In September, we started to look at VOIP telephones. VOIP stands for Voice over IP or phone systems that utilize the internet to make long distance and local calls. The District plan was to investigate the costs related to incorporating this type of system. The District’s E-rate plan was to request bids for a VOIP system which would provide a phone in each classroom along with communications between schools without long distance charges. In February, we submitted the 470 form on the USAC web page to generate RFP’s on the project. At the March 15th Board meeting two bids were reviewed to install a VOIP system for the District; the two vendors were Jive Communications and Interface. The District had requested a bid from South Central on a VIOPsystem but did not receive one before the Board meeting. We realize the importance of trying to support the local business of South Central, but we were at the end of the 28 day deadline and we had to file for E-rate on the systems we currently had bids for. It should be noted we did file to have South Central as our long distance provider. A discussion still exists between Jive Communications providing VOIP over a South Central system which will need to be resolved in the future independent of the District. The District filed to award the bid to Jive Communications for the VOIP system. If this provider cannot work out the agreement to provide VOIP we will default to our current long distance system. It was never our intentions to leave South Central out of the VOIP bidding process; we just needed a bid which we never received.
–Superintendent Ben Dalton