Districts gain reliability, save money with integrated communication system

The simple days of Ma Bell are long gone. Now it’s not just telephones – it’s a variety of communication equipment and functions, all integrated and controlled through one computer system. With multiple buildings and campuses spread across a large region, many schools districts struggle to achieve and maintain such a complex, integrated communications system – especially one that is reliable, flexible and cost-effective. The pressures of the current economic downturn further add to this challenge.

Several school districts have resolved their communications problems with a solution that can be implemented across multiple sites while providing a web-based central management system. The ShoreTel UC (Unified Communications) system helps schools by reducing the number of required phone lines schools must pay for, and by eliminating charges for having consultants perform moves, adds and changes (MACs). The system is also qualified under E-rate, which allows schools to acquire productivity-boosting UC systems when budgets are tight.

The communications successes of two school districts - one large and sprawling, one relatively compact - illustrate the challenges faced by many districts across the nation.

Amarillo ISD, Amarillo, Texas

With 53 campuses and two other facilities, an, easy-to-manage communications system was a must for the Amarillo Independent School District.

"The ShoreTel UC system has brought communications sanity to our large and geographically- distributed school district,” said Gary Allen, Chief Technology officer of Amarillo ISD. ”It's extremely reliable and easy to use and administer, which has significantly reduced our ongoing costs.”

With its new system, the district has established a single receptionist for the entire district, improving call management. The district also plans to assign a phone number to every instructional staff member. While they won't have handsets, they can use ShoreTel voicemail boxes as communication hubs. Voicemails are delivered by the ShoreTel system to Microsoft Outlook email inboxes, allowing staff to respond by email or any phone.

Perkiomen Valley School District, Pa.

Prior to deploying its ShoreTel UC system, the Perkiomen Valley School District, which serves about 5,800 students, faced rising costs and hours of frustration related to its hosted voice over IP (VoIP) system. With the new system, the district estimates it is saving approximately 75 percent of the cost of the hosted system, enabling it to reallocate budget toward additional educational resources. In addition, system management from anywhere on the network frees the IT group to focus on other important projects.

"The ShoreTel UC system is not something I spend very much of my day on, and that peace of mind is very important, said Mike Balik, IT Manager. “The schools can always get a call in or out—for a public education service like ours, this level of continuity is vital."