Technology and telecom expenses are notoriously confusing, and it can be difficult to gauge how much is reasonable for schools to spend. Not helping matters, most people The Jewish Week interviewed who have been involved in E-rate, were reluctant to offer even ballpark figures for tech expenses.
Richard Bernstein, an E-rate consultant who also declined to share his fee structure, said each case is different, that there are too many variables.
“It depends on the school, its size, its likelihood for expansion, where it’s located,” he said. Pressed, he estimated that “most schools spend $5,000-$10,000 a year on telecommunications” — Internet access and phone service, not the wiring or equipment.
A larger school, however, “could be spending $30,000-$50,000 a year,” he added.
People with small start-up schools, however, argue that if a school is savvy, technology expenses can be kept much lower.
Lauren Ariev Gellman, director of the Pre-Collegiate Learning Center in East Brunswick, N.J., a small pluralistic Jewish high school, told The Jewish Week that her school, in which every student has a laptop and many classes are offered partially online, currently spends approximately $2,000 a year for Internet and phone combined. For $800 more, she said she could install additional equipment to support 200 more people.
Noam Davidovics, former technology chair for Baltimore’s Ohr Chadash (and current director of technology at Memphis’ Margolin Hebrew Academy), noted that schools can save money by replacing PBX landlines with Internet phone service, going wireless and moving all operations to the cloud, rather than running it on servers.
For large schools located in old buildings, he said, going wireless is considerably cheaper than installing wires and jacks.
“Today you can have a functioning office with just an Internet connection,” he said. “You don’t need a server, you don’t need anything so fancy, as long as you can maintain an Internet connection, especially now with so many cloud-based options.”
He said costs “can get very high very quickly, so it’s important to identify what your needs are and make that the focus.”