After years of being ineligible to receive federal subsidies to help schools and students access the internet and community better, E-Rate dollars are flowing again to Dallas ISD to the tune of more than $36 million over the last two years.
District leaders say the millions brought in from federal reimbursements for technology purchases is further evidence of the district’s strong financial position.
Within the last month, the district received nearly $18 million in E-Rate reimbursements, which is on top of the approximately $18.3 million received last school year. Prior to those two reimbursements, the district had not received any E-Rate reimbursements since 2005.
“The fact that we are receiving this funding is testament to our strong financial position and strong leadership in the district,” Dallas ISD Treasurer Darlene Williams said.
E-Rate is a federal program that helps educational institutions and libraries pay for improvements to their technology systems. In Dallas ISD, the funding reimburses money the district has already invested in technology such as wireless access and Internet cabling. The E-Rate reimbursements go into the district’s general fund, which supports district operations.
“The E-Rate reimbursements go back into the classrooms,” Williams said. “That means additional funding for student needs, teachers, and programs.”
The federal government stopped issuing E-Rate reimbursements to Dallas ISD in 2005 after a former chief technology officer was convicted of bribery and money laundering. Dallas ISD then had to successfully meet strict compliance requirements, including an independent auditor reviewing and approving the district’s reimbursement process, to start receiving the E-Rate reimbursements again.
In addition to the E-Rate reimbursements, Williams said the district is in significantly stronger financial shape than it was just six years ago. For reference, the district’s fund balance has gone from about $35 million in 2008 to more than $300 million today.
A higher fund balance brings multiple benefits, including helping the district improve its bond rating, which lowers the cost of bond borrowing for things like capital improvements, and positioning the district to better weather any potential financial downturn. The higher fund balance also saves on the cost of borrowing for cash flow purposes, and allows the district to more actively invest, which has notably increased the investment earnings in the general fund.
The last E-Rate reimbursements follow several other gains in financial performance. The district has earned a gross savings of more than $117.4 million over the life of the bonds from refunding bonds in July 2014 and February 2015 to take advantage of current bond market rates. Refunding the bonds is essentially the school district equivalent of a homeowner refinancing their mortgage to obtain a lower interest rate.
Also, the district just received its first full cash rebate—$151,344—for the ePayables program it participates in with Bank of America. The ePayables allows vendors the option to be paid electronically by the district, which saves the district money by eliminating the costs associated with printing and mailing checks. Williams said the rebate was significantly higher than expected for the first year, and that ePayables will continue to grow as the district signs up new and existing vendors to the program.
Add it all up, and Superintendent Mike Miles said Dallas ISD has a bright financial future.
“These are three very positive developments that affirm we have turned the corner financially, both in terms of management but also in our fund reserves,” he said. “Our financial services team, as well as many others, deserves a lot of credit for restoring the financial integrity of Dallas ISD.”