Alabama School District's Dream Accomplished

Background

All school administrators want their students to have the best learning experience possible. Today, that means having a certain level of technology in the classroom. But for most districts, there is a constant barrier to making this a reality – budget constraints. Capital funds, grants and typical fund-raising efforts are helpful, but it's rare that they are ever enough for a district to implement its ideal solution.

So districts do the most with the funds that they have. And because there's not enough money for computers for everyone, some lucky administrator gets to decide who will be the "'haves" and who will be the "have nots." And that decision results in some very unlucky children and teachers.

The Vision

A school district in Alabama decided it wasn't going to make that decision. The district, which is in an Alabama town of 15,000, is comprised of five schools (K-12) serving 3,500 students. District administrators knew the exceptional value that technology would bring to every classroom and every child. So instead of doling out a few PCs and projectors here and there, they decided to find a way to give every classroom what it deserved.

This is how the 21st Century Digital Learning Project came into being. No holds barred, the district wrote its dream plan, using the Intelligent Classroom model as a guide and working from there. They outlined exactly what equipment they believed all students should have, in which classrooms and schools.

Across five schools, the district's goal was to outfit 158 classrooms with ceiling-mounted projectors, wireless tablet PCs and wireless printers. Each school would have two mobile labs. Every classroom would have at least four thin clients. And in the high school, the calculus and physics classrooms would have a PC for every student. The district also wanted educational software, varying for the different age groups and disciplines. And the sooner they could put it in place, the better off every student would be.

Financing Solution

The solution would cost a million dollars, far more money than the district had any reasonable access to under current conditions. And this is where the next critical element – the schools' fundraising foundation – was born.

The district had decided to turn to the community for support. The foundation organized concerts and student drives, and appealed to corporations and foundations. And in a town of only 15,000 people, they did it. In cash and in pledged donations, the foundation raised $1 million.

The Power of Leasing

Part three of the district's plan would be to lease the technology, something it had been doing for a number of years with CSI Leasing on a variety of other equipment. From prior experience, the district knew that leasing would allow it to stretch its IT dollars, getting more equipment to more classrooms than it could if equipment was purchased. Through leasing, the district would install equipment for everyone early in the project, not having to make a "have versus have not" decision.

The leasing strategy also worked well because of the high amount of pledged donations. To lease the equipment, they didn't need every penny in the bank on day one. Since lease payments are spread over time, the pledged donations would kick in to cover the lease payments after the initial funds had been applied. The district's finance team had created a picture-perfect cash flow scenario. Even though budgeting was the primary driver for leasing, the school district is enjoying other benefits as well. Without the burden of the depreciation required by ownership, not a single student, faculty or administrator will be forced to use a computer over five years old. This means that every computer will be current enough to count on their state report card.

Getting rid of outdated equipment also became easier. At the end of the lease, the technology staff simply returns everything to CSI, where hard drives are sanitized according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology and unusable equipment is recycled under a strict zero-landfill, zero-export policy. No more dealing with public auctions or converting teachers lounges into used computer store rooms.

The 21st Century Digital Learning Project became a reality thanks to big thinking, an amazing foundation and CSI Leasing. The district's CSFO has worked with CSI for years. When asked about the financing element of the project, she stated, "Leasing was, without a doubt, the only way to make this happen."