First, make sure what you have requested is granted; you should get word on this shortly since the accelerated approval process has sped up decisions at the Schools and Libraries Division (SLD). Then, your primary E-Rate focus in the next few months should be to make sure what you have requested is implemented according to plan and within E-Rate parameters. Once completed, you must submit your Form 486 and Form 472 to notify the SLD that work is done and payment should be made. Finally, you must take care to secure your records for compliance review. Under the revised E-Rate program, records must be kept for 10 years – double the previous program’s requirement of just five years.

Once all this is completed, you must begin work on next year’s process.

First, re-examine your technology strategy. Is it on track and meeting your school’s needs? What alterations are necessary to address evolving requirements and shifting priorities? Make necessary revisions to the strategy and develop an adjusted tactical plan.

Next, calculate the costs to fulfill those needs. Have spitball discussions with vendors and users, make some estimates, and set year-to-year implementation priorities. Doing this properly may take some time. Talk with your curriculum folks and see what technology-infused implementations they have on the horizon. For instance, is there a new literacy program that involves student computers or a new STEM program that will entail dense traffic with high bandwidth? Find out what these programs will cost, how they will be funded and estimate what the impact will be on the school’s infrastructure. Once this information is gathered, calculate how technology must be upgraded, the time frames it must be completed by, and the cost to accomplish it.

The next step will be to identify the E-Rate dollars remaining in your five-year E-Rate budget. Once identified, you must align your implementation strategy to best take advantage of those remaining E-Rate dollars. You will do this by determining how best to allocate these dollars over the final years of your five-year plan. For those who received Category 2 E-Rate funding in Fiscal 2015 and Fiscal 2016, the three remaining years are Fiscal 2017, Fiscal 2018 and Fiscal 2019.

Finally, plan your E-Rate efforts and set your Fiscal 2017 E-Rate agenda. Plan to have meetings with potential service providers by the late fall to kick the tires on new or alternative ways to meet your needs. See if a managed service offering could make sense to either save money or to relieve your burdened IT or training staff. Maybe building your own wireless area network services either by yourself or in a partnership arrangement could be a good solution, especially now that E-Rate dollars can be applied for some of these efforts — something we will discuss in a future blog.

Congratulations on completing the E-Rate application process for Fiscal 2016. It’s been tricky adapting to the rule changes and new opportunities, and a break is well-deserved. But don’t take too long to begin the process for next year.