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Rising Costs Could Cut Satellite School Courses

Large companies crowding to use satellites are driving up costs, which could cut the number of courses Spokane’s Educational Service District 101 beams to schools nationwide.

The district, which operates one of the two largest education-by-satellite systems in the country, faces a 10 percent to 20 percent increase in lease costs.

Those costs either must be passed on to the small, mostly rural school districts that get the programs, or the district must reduce some courses it offers, said Superintendent Brian Talbott.

Talbott is negotiating new contracts with satellite lease-providers. He said the contracts won’t be completed for two months or more.

Since 1987, ESD 101 has been the main provider of courses that are beamed to satellites and then beamed back to receiving dishes at schools.

This year, the district will transmit more than 2,300 hours of teacher training and elementary through high school courses to 3,500 buildings in 21 states.

Some of the courses are produced in Spokane; others are recorded elsewhere and transmitted over the system ESD 101 manages.

The district will pay about $450,000 this year to lease satellite time to transmit those programs, said Clint Kruiswyk, director of the district’s technology support center on East Broadway.

Courses include instruction in Japanese, German and Spanish, science and social studies. In some cases, the satellite courses are the only opportunity a rural student has to study a foreign language.

A satellite fee increase of more than 10 percent or 12 percent probably would mean reducing or canceling some courses, Talbott said.

Behind the price escalation is a surge in demand for satellite time among cable companies and other entertainment networks.

“Cable and other companies are buying up so much time in large blocks that the inventory (for time slots) is much smaller,” said Jason Vingelen, a vice president with a company hired by ESD 101 to help operate its satellite communications office in the Spokane Valley.

ESD 101, by virtue of its size, has a decent chance to get all the time it needs next year, Talbott predicted.

Two years ago, the district could buy up blocks of time 60 to 90 days in advance. Now, however, leasing agents won’t sell the time until a week or two before the program date, Kruiswyk said.

That’s because agents expect to sell the time to larger companies or they are waiting to see if they can get a higher bid.

The competition also increases the chance of school programs being preempted, Kruiswyk said.

The district had planned to transmit 10 hours of science training to area schoolteachers but recently learned that it must reschedule the transmission.

“Since we’ve already announced the course, we now have to switch the dates to keep the same satellite. Or tell the districts to plan on aiming their dishes at whatever satellite we end up using,” said Kruiswyk.

The district can’t buy time in large or long-term blocks the way big companies do, Talbott said. Leasing satellite time in advance for all its 1995-96 programming would cost the district about $1.5 million.



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