A Working Parent Begs K-12 Schools: PLEASE Get E-Rate Phone Service!

E-Rate phone service for schoolsIf you’re a working parent—and I’m not sure there’s any other kind—think about this the next time you try to communicate with your kid’s school or school district. It could be SO much easier, if only your school took advantage of the federal E-Rate program to get better business phone service, teleconferencing and faxing.

Even in Silicon Valley, the Cobbler’s Children Are Barefooted

Schools are notoriously behind the times when it comes to using technology to communicate. Even here in Silicon Valley—headquarters of Google, Apple, Facebook, etc.—the techno-cobblers’ children run barefoot on the old Information Superhighway, as Al Gore used to call it. Many schools don’t have anything like VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) business phone service. And the irony is, it’s all so unnecessary. More on that, and what you can do about it, later.

Just Try to Reach Someone Fast at a School

Consider, for example, all the dropped calls and messages to teachers and administrators that seem to go into a group “Voicemail-to-Oblivion” message center, never to be heard from again. And Lord help you if you have to call a school nurse really fast!

I used to think I was the only one who had trouble reaching people at schools, until some reporter friends told me they’d rather track down a CEO of a major company than someone at a school or university. “A CEO has people who will make sure you get through if the CEO wants to talk to you. That’s not the way it works at schools,” they pointed out.

Parent-Teacher Conferences: A Working Parent’s Test

And, then there’s the parent-teacher conference. This semi-annual exercise challenges working parents everywhere to figure out a way to take enough time off to drive from work to school and then usually back again, so they can make the time up to their supervisor’s satisfaction—all to sit in tiny little kiddie chairs and review your child’s progress and achievements.

Around here, the drive alone can be really horrific, since during the time before and just after class, the carpool lanes are in effect and reserved for cars with two or more drivers. That’s when commutes that can be 20 minutes in low traffic, turn into nightmarish hour-plus exercises in frustration.

During that time, I’ve always thought of how at all the actual jobs I’ve had in the last ten years, everybody uses conference calls (sometimes even videoconferencing), call forwarding, voice-mail-to-email and auto attendants to communicate, and I want to cry. Or shake someone into action.

Not Everyone Has Job Flexibility

And I have been lucky to have somewhat flexible employers. I’m sure it’s a zillion times worse for hourly workers and many service jobs where you really can’t leave early, even just once in a while. Those parents are often unable to communicate with their children’s teachers during work hours, something that any educator can tell you is extremely important.

But I don’t blame the schools. School administrators probably don’t even realize the extent to which their old, unreliable technology is getting in the way of communicating with parents and the wider community, and educating the kids. They feel they must soldier on with what they’ve got, because they don’t realize how inexpensive it could be to fix it.

Struck by Lightning

Take, for example, St. Matthew’s Lutheran School. It literally had to be struck by lightning before the administration felt justified in replacing their poor old lightning-fried PBX, which according to all observers, had been pretty flakey even before the storm that did it in for good. (And lest you think this is an entirely isolated example, you’d be amazed at how many of 8x8’s customers mention a lightning strike or catastrophic storm as the coup de grace for their poor ailing PBXs.)

That’s when George Zaferos, the school business administrator, immediately began looking for a replacement system, but as long as he was only considering on-premises PBXs—the kind that usually have a wiring closet in the corner somewhere—cost was going to be a deal-breaker.

“We were desperate to get a new system installed quickly, but the quote we got for a new on-premises PBX, including hardware, phones, computers, software and ongoing support fees, was more than $10,000,” he recalls. “And we had to factor in the maintenance costs of hosting the new PBX and computers internally. It was a lot more than we could afford to pay.”

E-Rate Makes Modernization Financially Feasible

Zaferos began looking for an alternative. He contacted 8x8, which provides phone, fax and teleconferencing using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), and from his first conversation with the team, he felt that 8x8, which provides a variety of VoIPcommunications services, was a good fit. And because there’s no PBX-style hardware to buy or manage—just an Internet connection and the phones themselves—schools can save a huge amount of money.

“8x8 knows how to scale to meet the needs of smaller organizations,” he says. “The technology is easy to use and manage, and the cost is phenomenally competitive.”

8x8 assisted St. Matthew’s Lutheran School in receiving discounted VoIP services through a program that the federal government authorized. It’s called the E-Rate program, and it’s for schools—public and private—and libraries. It’s designed to ensure that all eligible K-12 schools and libraries have affordable access to modern telecommunications and information services. Up to $2.25 billion is available annually through E-Rate, which is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (www.usac.org).

Schools Don’t Have to Waste Money on PBX or Phone Maintenance

“8x8’s participation in E-Rate allowed us to add features and capacity to our phone system and still keep our costs down,” says Zaferos. “We saved a great deal of time and money by selecting 8x8,” says Zaferos. “8x8 hosted service takes away the headache of purchasing and maintaining an on-site PBX. It doesn’t make sense for a small organization like ours to do it when 8x8 can do it much more cost-effectively. All we had to do is purchase new phones, and that cost was negligible compared to the cost of a new PBX.”

Don’t Let Your School Miss Out

Many schools are missing this opportunity, either because schools don’t know about E-Rate, or they don’t know how to apply and get reimbursement. And it does take some work to make all of the deadlines and submit the forms.

But imagine your school, school district or library interacting with the public—including you—in a much more efficient and customer-friendly way. Teleconferencing, voicemail-to-email conversion so that teachers can listen to your message from their email inboxes, call forwarding to each teacher’s individual mailbox, maybe even Web conferencing.

And when it comes to schools, you and your children are the customers that our schools serve. (Incidentally, even private and parochial schools can get reimbursement funding through E-Rate.) Just think of all the other important things your school could do with the money saved through E-Rate and a better phone system!

So Here’s What You Do

If you want to improve your school’s communications and save it some money, forward this blog link or post links to it to your favorite social media site. Talk to your principal, or to your school’s IT person. Ask your PTA if there is a way they can help with the process of getting inexpensive E-Rate telecommunications service for your school or district. (The 8x8 E-Rate Voice for Education team can help people navigate the E-Rate program process and ensure your school gets the program funding it deserves, based on program guidelines.)

You can help make this win-win change come about. There is no force in nature as powerful as parents acting on their children’s behalf. You can do this. 8x8 can help.

Lisa Stapleton

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Lisa Stapleton is a marketing manager at 8x8. She holds an MBA from Santa Clara University, an MA in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and a bachelor's degree in applied math and physics from UC Berkeley. [...] Read More >

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