SKOWHEGAN — A new telephone system to be installed in district schools will link teachers and staff to the Internet and relay information on school closings and early dismissal to family cellphones, computers and home phones.

The new ShoreTel phone system is to be paid for with $300,000 in grants under the federal E-rate program and will match the one installed at the Canaan Elementary School from renovations there three years ago.

The new telephone system — with 360 new telephones — will replace the  phone system currently in place, School Administrative District 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry said.

“They’re ancient. The system we have has been here for decades,”  Colbry said. “The company doesn’t make the equipment anymore; no one services it anymore. It’s costly to maintain.”

The new system will use existing computer wiring in some of the schools, with replacement computer cable to be installed in the others, he said.

Canaan Elementary School principal Steve Swindells said his staff also uses the phones as a public address system, increasing the level of security within the school in case of emergency.

“The speed and volume of the system is impressive,” Swindells said. “This saves hundreds of phone calls to and from schools. It has made communication in the building and to our students’ homes much easier. This is possible because the phones are tied in to the Internet.”

Colbry said the district is authorized to receive $300,000 in E-rate funding, with no local money being used. Additional costs, about $30,000, will be taken from saved E-rate awards and from future E-rate rebates and reimbursements, he said.

Public schools, nonprofit private schools and libraries can receive discounted telecommunications services through the E-rate program, which is funded by surcharges to everyone’s telephone bill every month, Colbry said.

The E-rate program was set up in 1997 when the Federal Communications Commission implemented the Telecommunications Act. The program was designed to ensure that all eligible schools and libraries have affordable access to modern telecommunications and information services. Up to $2.25 billion annually is available to provide eligible schools and libraries with discounts under the program.
The SAD 54 board approved the move last month. Colbry said the change over could take 18 months or more to complete.

“The good part of this is our own technology guys will be doing all the work,” he said. “They can do all the wiring, all the connections and they can manage the phone network from a central location. That’s the other pay back; we pay out a lot of money to companies for service fees. We won’t have to do that anymore — that’s over $10,000 a year.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
[email protected]

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