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Education System Closer to Being Wired


Nov. 7, 2005 — More money is needed for public schools in the territory to become completely Internet accessible, according to Education Department officials.
Clinton Stapleton, instructional technology director for the Education Department, along with other Education officials, was asked to attend an Education, Youth and Culture meeting Monday to update senators about progress being made on the Education Territory Area Network (ETAN).
Stapleton said that once the network is operational, all classrooms, offices, and activity centers in the territory will be able to, among other things, conduct research, share lesson plans, take virtual field trips and hold video-conference meetings.
Teleconferencing is one of the network’s greatest advantages, said Education Commissioner Noreen Michael, since ETAN has allowed teachers and administrators to hold meetings without having to travel between islands—or even to the mainland.
"It’s really cut down on expenses a great deal," she said in response to questioning from Sen. Roosevelt C. David regarding the status of the system.
However, in addition to providing Education with the technicians needed to complete the network — there are currently four technicians in the territory — Michael said extra funding is needed for the creation of a backup system so people using ETAN can stay connected in case of a power or Internet failure. The department applied for — and was denied — funding for the project through the federal government’s E-Rate program in 2003, she said. Michael did not explain why the application was denied.
Michael said funding for the ETAN system primarily comes from the E-Rate program, which gives Education money based on how many students in the school system are eligible to participate in the territory’s school lunch program. While the application was denied in 2003, Michael said, $14.5 million has been received by Education through E-Rate over a six-year period. A request for $5.8 million to fund the network during the 2004-2005 school year has also been approved, while a funding request for the next school year is still pending.
In the event that next year’s application is denied, Michael said the department will maintain the network as it is. When asked, Michael also said any denial or approval of E-Rate funding does not interfere with stipulations in the compliance agreement between local and federal education departments.
"If funding is approved," Michael said, "the federal government gives it directly to the vendors we’ve contracted to provide our network services."
Michael also said the E-Rate program covers only 90 percent of service costs associated with setting up and running the network. The remaining 10 percent, as well as the funding needed to supply actual computers, phone lines and other equipment is appropriated from the General Fund.
For the next fiscal year, Michael said, the territory will be required to pay about $680,000, that’s if the department’s application for E-Rate funding for the 2006-2007 is approved. If the local government refuses to pay the money, Michael said, the territory will have to forfeit the approved funding and may "jeopardize our ability to access the needed support for critical technology services."
Stapleton said local and E-Rate funding will also be needed in the future for the construction of communications towers throughout the territory. At an estimated cost of more than $2 million, the structures would help stabilize the network, improve connection speed, and eliminate any interference.
Present at Monday's meeting were Sens. David, Liston Davis, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Shawn-Michael Malone, Nelson, and Usie R. Richards. Sen. Louis P. Hill was absent.

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