PORTLAND — The city’s public schools will get a $255,000 grant from the federal E-Rate program to continue upgrading classroom technology, school officials announced Thursday.

The grant, combined with a $56,000 local match, will pay for new network cable, wireless computer service and digital voice equipment at Riverton and Presumpscot elementary schools and King Middle School.

When the work is completed, every classroom in those schools will have access to high-speed Internet service.

“In two years, we have completed technology upgrades at more than half of the Portland public schools with the help of state and federal resources,” said Joseph Makley, the school district’s technology coordinator.

The E-Rate program generates revenue from a small surcharge on phone bills and distributes it to schools with high poverty rates. Last year, Portland received $300,000 for technology upgrades at Reiche and East End elementary schools and the West School, where the district offers day-treatment and adult-education programs.

The E-Rate program also pays for Internet service at Cliff Island School and Peaks Island Elementary.
News of the latest E-Rate grant follows the distribution of nearly 2,200 Dell netbooks to students in the city’s three high schools, expanding on the state’s middle-school laptop program.

The netbooks were part of a $1.3 million plan, approved by the School Committee in September, that was funded by $785,000 in federal money and $500,000 borrowed through the city’s capital improvement program.

As part of the computer upgrade, the district bought 1,100 Apple laptops that had been used by seventh- and eighth-graders in the city’s three middle schools.

The used laptops were available because the Maine Department of Education recently provided new laptops for seventh- and eighth-graders across the state. The state also paid to install wireless service at Portland’s middle and high schools last year.

About half of the used laptops were distributed to Portland’s sixth-graders, Makley said. The other half were distributed among the city’s 10 elementary schools, working out to about one per classroom.

The city’s capital improvement program, which borrows money for major capital expenses, will pay to install network cables at Deering and Portland high schools next summer, at a cost of $165,000, Makley said.

School officials have requested an additional $500,000 in capital improvement funds to upgrade network cables, wireless service and other equipment at Hall, Longfellow, Lyseth and Peaks elementary schools, Lincoln and Moore middle schools, and Casco Bay High School.

“When all of the upgrades are completed, we will have a system in place that should meet our technology needs for 10 years or more,” Makley said.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com