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School system calls for phone upgrades
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Administrative assistant Alicia Rodriguez answers the phone at West Elementary most of the day. “I’m open to change and improvements when it comes to a new phone system,” said Rodriguez. - photo by Lacy Garrison

Two phone companies – ENA and Ben Lomand Connect – are vying for the chance to provide their phone services to the Warren County School System.

In June, the School Board received bids to update the phone system to Voice Over IP (VoIP), which allows the internet to be used to make and receive telephone calls. After receiving bids from four companies, the board narrowed it down to ENA or Ben Lomand.

Depending on the contract and services, the monthly cost for ENA is an estimated $7,553, while Ben Lomand’s bid is $10,072.

Last week, both companies were given the opportunity to come before the School Board with a breakdown of their services in a timed, 30-minute presentation.

ENA, a fully hosted, cloud-based VoIP provider from Nashville, was represented by Andrew Brian and Dan Crowley. In their presentation, they explained how their company is built for education. In fact, ENA has been working with Warren County for over 20 years with data and firewall services.

“We have 95 percent of schools in Tennessee who receive their internet service from us,” said Brian. “We employ over 75,000 VoIP extensions nationwide, we’re in 35 states and the only reason I bring up those outside of Tennessee is because it forces us to continue to improve our product and our rates to be competitive nationwide.”

Ben Lomand brought its local team including Bryan Kell, Micah Lawrence, Stevana Palambo and Chris Centracchio to discuss their new system.

“Since 1964, we have tried to work diligently with the school system over the years,” said Kell. “We’ve had a lot of change and now we’ve got over 80 businesses using our hosted site that lives in Ben Lomand.”

During the presentation, Palambo explained how a school could receive as many calls as it has bandwidth, updates that can be done through the cloud, and that there are three levels of phones available (administrative, classroom, and common room area).

Added Lawrence, “What makes Ben Lomand unique is our cloud is sitting in McMinnville. When it comes to these phones being able to make a phone call, if any internet event happens, it doesn’t affect these phones.”

After both parties had presented, School Board members entered into deep discussion with director of technology Katrina Haley.

School Board member James Bennett was the first to voice his concern with ENA, saying he didn’t want to overload Haley.

“I know they are good, but it seems like to me we would be doing all the work and they would be billing us,” said Bennett. “If something goes wrong, Katrina is the troubleshooter.”

Answered Haley, “If there is a phone that doesn’t work, we do have to call them, but we have extra phones that we could plug in, so yes, we will have to do that legwork but as far as maintaining the system and the major controls of it, that’s not on me. That’s on them.”

Added Director of Schools Bobby Cox, “Ben Lomand didn’t answer that question when I said, ‘You’ll do all this at no charge.’”

“They charge us right now,” interjected Haley. “Every time … I can show you the bills.”

Haley said her primary concern with Ben Lomand is they don’t have a whole lot of references with school systems.

“We are a lot bigger than what they are showing us and that scares me because putting VoIP in this large of a system is big,” said Haley.

After further discussion and too many unanswered questions by both companies, board members decided to hold off on any kind of decision. They will readdress the topic at a workshop Jan. 8.