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Settlement brings schools technology-funding relief

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Kathleen Foody
June 10, 2009
— Area schools could receive a windfall for technology purchases through the second half of a class-action settlement with Microsoft announced Monday.

According to Department of Public Instruction estimates, Janesville School District could receive $762,303, Beloit more than $1.8 million and Delavan-Darien $496,636 in vouchers during the next four years. The timing of the first payment isn't clear but could be by this fall.


The plaintiffs in the class-action suit claimed the software giant violated Wisconsin antitrust and unfair competition laws by overcharging Wisconsin customers for some of its products.


The announcement was a relief for some school officials who still are waiting on federal stimulus funding and could see state funding cut as the Legislature finalizes its budget. Each district is required to develop a technology plan under state and federal law, but it takes money to follow through.


Delavan-Darien School District will use the settlement money to focus on projects threatened by lower state allocations, said Tracy Deavers, director of instruction and technology.


"Obviously with that being reduced, putting wireless in our schools and purchasing more laptops for the kids to use is something we wouldn't do without this extra funding coming forward," Deavers said.


The Janesville School District likely will use the vouchers to replace computers in labs and in classrooms districtwide or for reimbursement on past purchases, comptroller Lauri Clifton said.


"A lot of that will depend on what they mean by spreading the vouchers out over four years," she said.


School districts should start looking at their technology plans and spread their expenses over several years, said Steve Sanders, director of instructional media technology with the Department of Public Instruction.


"I wouldn't go out and spend it quite yet, but they should be ready because this will be happening over the summer or into the fall," Sanders said.


The initial 2006 settlement gave vouchers to any person or organization that purchased specific Microsoft products or a computer that had the products installed for use in Wisconsin between Dec. 7, 1993, and April 30, 2003.


Local school districts are part of a second phase of the settlement, which is intended to distribute money not claimed in the first phase. A Milwaukee County judge ruled that once all the original plaintiffs were paid, the remaining money should be split between Microsoft and Wisconsin public schools, which will be sharing about $75 million.


Only schools where at least 33 percent of the students received free or reduced lunch in 2005 would be eligible for the vouchers. In Janesville, for example, six of the district's 17 schools qualify of settlement money.


The 33 percent measure might exclude schools that are facing budget problems, said Mark Worthing, business manager for Edgerton School District.


No Edgerton schools qualify for the settlement money, and Edgerton cut its technology budget by $100,000 for next year, leaving enough to cover basic operations.


"We're definitely seeing an increase in the amount of software programs that need to be purchased," Worthing said. "Students and teachers are relying on it more and more, but I would guess at 33 percent a district does have some struggling families in that community."


A total of 850 Wisconsin public schools are eligible for a portion of the estimated $75 million.


MICROSOFT SETTLEMENT

Area schools could receive vouchers worth thousands of dollars for technology products and services over four years through a settlement with Microsoft. These numbers are estimates and could change. To be eligible, 33.33 percent of a school's student body must come from low-income homes.


Clinton Community District: $15,363

-- LIFT Charter School—$15,363


Delavan-Darien: $496,636

-- Darien Elementary —$138,793


-- Phoenix Middle School—$148,858


-- Turtle Creek Elementary—$152,567


-- Wileman Elementary—$56,418


East Troy Community: $156,010

-- East Troy High—$156,010


Fort Atkinson: $74,959

-- Luther Elementary—$74,959


Janesville: $762,303

-- Edison Middle School—$199,979


-- Franklin Middle School—$167,929


-- Jackson Elementary—$80,256


-- Lincoln Elementary—$108,068


-- Madison Elementary—$111,246


-- Wilson Elementary—$94,824


Lake Geneva J1: $36,200

-- Central - Denison Elementary—$185,676


-- Eastview Elementary—$86,878


-- Star Center Elementary—$91,646


Linn J4: $37,347

-- Traver Elementary—$37,347


Parkview: $2,119

-- Parkview Charter School—$2,119


Sharon J11: $84,759

-- Sharon Elementary—$84,759


Whitewater: $98,268

-- Lincoln Elementary—$98,268


Source: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction



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