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GSA Assistance Can Lessen Back-to-School Costs

September 8, 2010

Computers for Learning Program Makes a Difference for Schools

For a couple of months each year, GSA information technology specialist Ken Hutchinson finds himself in an old Heartland Region warehouse in Kansas City, Mo., surrounded by pallets full of laptops, desktops, printers, servers and other surplus computer equipment.

Some of it is old, some broken. The vast majority of it works as well now as the first day it was turned on.

Hutchinson takes inventory: “494 laptops, 269 desktops, 161 monitors, 28 servers, network cables. …”

For most organizations, this isn’t an uncommon effort after refreshing their IT equipment. What makes this particular experience so pleasant for Hutchinson, though, is he knows it is all about to be used again – by local schools.

It’s all part of GSA’s Computers for Learning Program, putting functional hardware into the hands of teachers, students and administrators.

“It just makes sense,” Hutchinson said. “Most of this stuff is only 3 to 5 years old. We can either give it back to the computer company, or we can give it to schools that need it.”  

Computers for Learning has been available in some form since Jimmy Carter was president. It was most recently encouraged in Executive Order 12999: Ensuring Opportunity for all Children in the Next Century, signed by President Clinton in 1996.

Still, regular use of the program isn’t as popular as most would assume.

“It traditionally hasn’t been a widely used program because it takes time and effort,” said GSA Regional IT Manager Greg Gdanski. “It’s much easier to recycle the equipment than to find schools willing to take it from us.”

Now, Gdanski and Hutchinson want to stop that trend by proving the old program has renewed value.

“Times are tough, for everyone,” Gdanski said. “And now, more than ever, schools are jumping on the opportunity to take this perfectly fine equipment off our hands.”

In Kansas City, the donated computers have helped the Genesis School launch a new virtual learning program for at-risk children.

“GSA’s computers have allowed us to provide our students with technology they can’t get anywhere else,” said Dave Anstaett, Genesis School Director of Virtual Academy. “Our mission is to help these students, often who are not allowed in other schools, to graduate. Providing them access to today’s technology and teaching them how to use it is critical, and we can’t afford to buy this many new computers.”

The Missouri City, Mo., School District also has taken advantage of the program, using it to supply all teachers and students with their own computers. In all, 20 schools across Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois are receiving used GSA equipment on a regular basis.

“The program has grown exponentially the last few years,” said Gdanski. “We’ve even been able to find vocational schools that will take our broken equipment and use it to teach students how to fix it.”

GSA is inspiring other agencies as well. In the past five months, Debbie Laffoon, a personal property officer in the Heartland Federal Acquisition Service has worked closely with the Social Security Administration to dispose of its equipment through the program.

“We started using the computers for learning process in April," said Tonya Freeman, from SSA's Kansas City Regional Office. "Since our first entry, we have donated 1,772 computers with peripherals, as well as 35 monitors. We have also donated 22 laptop computers.

“All of the computers were several years old and had been replaced by our agency, but that does not matter to schools in need,” she added. “The requests for computers have come from near and far.”

Social Security has donated more than 600 computers to local school districts and more than 300 to smaller districts and private schools in Missouri. Other equipment has gone to schools in Illinois, Florida and Texas.

“It has been very rewarding to know that our computers will have a new life in the schools. Thanks to Computers for Learning for making the property disposal process easier to accomplish,” said Freeman.

Any public, private or parochial school that is registered with the National Center for Education Statistics can be eligible for the program. Visit http://computersforlearning.gov/ for more information.

GSA Teaches School Recycling Lesson

The Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster, Pa, recently learned a lesson about federal surplus property — and it’s a lesson the school administrators won’t soon forget.

Recycling saves money.

The school, eligible to receive donated federal personal property from GSA through the Pennsylvania State Agency for Surplus Property’s Federal Surplus Property Program, recently received an epic volume of dormitory furniture being recycled by a U.S. Air Force base in Montana.

The long-distance transaction was made possible through use of GSAXcess, the national automated inventory program. Operated by the GSA Office of Personal Property Management in the Mid-Atlantic and other GSA regions, the program matches customer needs with available excess and surplus federal property.

In this case, the customers were the Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology and its administrators, who were initially nervous about taking their first federal property test donation on such a large volume of property from so far away.

Nevertheless, thanks to GSA and the Pennsylvania State Agency for Surplus Property’s Federal Surplus Property Program, the school passed the test with flying colors, and the students of the college were the beneficiaries. They received 50 three-drawer dressers, 28 student desks, 38 stackable student beds, 19 sets of bedsprings, and four all-purpose tables.

The furniture will go a long way toward furnishing rooms for 30-50 students at the college’s newly expanded branch facility.

And for those keeping score, once the property was safely processed, shipped, and received, the college administrators, in return, gave the experience high marks by confirming that the quality of the recycled furniture — in their words — was “excellent!”