On April 21 the District 65 School Board approved a whittled-down version of a classroom technology model recommended by the District’s Technology Study Committee in its April 2008 report. Citing cost concerns, the Board approved 25 percent fewer computers for student use than recommended by the Committee.
In line with a recommendation of the Committee, however, the Board decided to pay for the cost of new computers and related equipment by issuing short-term general obligation bonds. This will enable the District to pay for the capital costs with funds that are not subject to the property tax caps, and will thus leave more money available for operations.
The Committee Report
The report issued by the District 65 Technology Study Committee concluded that technology is a pivotal tool to support each student’s learning, that digital classrooms are in step with how students learn today, and that the digital classroom provides an ideal environment to encourage differentiation of instruction to meet individual student needs. The Committee made a series of recommendations to move the District toward creating a “digital classroom,” to provide professional development and to fund the technology.
The Digital Classroom: Consistent with the District’s 2007 Technology Plan, the Committee recommended that “every classroom should be equipped with presentation systems – projector with audio, document camera and interactive whiteboard.”
The Committee recommended, however, that the District enhance its current technology plan by increasing the ratio of computers from one computer for every 3.8 students to one computer for every 2.8 students. The Committee recommended that the following model be used “as a minimum,” to make computers accessible for classroom instruction:
One teacher computer per classroom;
· One permanent student computer per classroom;
One laptop cart of 24 units for every two classrooms for grades 3-8; and
One laptop cart of 24 units for each K-2 grade level at a school.
The Committee said it was important to increase the number of computers because “teacher adoption of technology is occurring at such a rapid rate, and sufficient numbers of classroom computers are difficult to access – there are simply not enough computers to go around.” The report added that “a significant problem … is that limited access to computers limits what teachers may plan.”
According to the report, the national average was one computer per 3.8 students in 2005. Based on a trend analysis, the report concluded that to remain competitive, the District should have one computer for every two students in 2009.
Professional Development: The Technology Committee concluded that “professional development is perhaps the single largest factor in the success or failure of the digital school,” and that “well designed and appropriate professional development is the key to ensuring that the skills and concepts are taught and the equipment used effectively.”
The report supports the District’s 2007 Technology Plan that “teachers incorporate technology into daily instructional practice rather than use technology as an event like a once-a-week visit to a computer lab.” The Committee found that “this shift is happening and should be reinforced.” The report recognized that teachers had a range of classroom technology skills and recommended that the District provide time and funding for staff development and that proposals in the District’s 2007 Technology Plan be implemented.
Funding Technology: The Committee recommended that the District issue Debt Service Extension Base bonds to fund technology, which would provide a continuous method to fund technology. The report states that using DSEB bonds to finance the purchase of technology “allows for the acquisition and deployment of reliable technology without drawing away from programs and services supported through the District’s annual operating funds.”
The Board’s Cost Concerns
The Board rejected the Committee’s recommendation to increase the number of computers from a ratio of one computer for every 3.8 students to a ratio of 2.8 per student. The concern was primarily the cost.
The total estimated cost to equip each classroom with a presentation system, to provide instructional computers at a ratio of one computer for every 2.8 students (including replacing the computers on a three-year cycle), to upgrade the network architecture and to purchase administrative computers was $12.1 million over six years, or an average of about $2 million per year.
Staying with the ratio of one computer for every 3.8 students would save about $1.9 million over the six-year period, or about $316,000 per year.
Most Board members were concerned with the cost of the technology. They were also concerned about the projected cost of other capital projects which, together with the cost of technology, may cost $40 million in a five- or six-year period.
Mary Rita Luecke said, “We are really going for, in my view, an unprecedented amount of bonds. It’s $40 million ultimately, over a four-year, five-year period.”
Mary Erickson said, “This looks like a reasonable kind of classroom that we’re presenting. I am sort of in awe of all the money it costs. I am in awe that it’s renewable; you have to continue to do it.”
Jerome Summers said, “Here’s my concern. I’m concerned about technology, or any individual aspect of our District, being like this big huge vacuum cleaner sucking up all the money like Pac-Man Forever, when we have buildings, old buildings, Willard, Orrington, Chute, that have to be improved. … We have other programs. It just seems like the money keeps getting bigger and bigger.”
“That’s my concern too – that we start something that we cannot continue to fund,” said Ms. Lockhart.
Katie Bailey said, “There’s a lot of debt. The economy concerns me. I’m worried about the roll-out of technology, the pace of it. I want to see professional development that goes hand-in-hand. I would like to use less debt. I would like to go more slowly.”
Paul Brinson, director of information services, urged the Board to approve the increased number of computers. He said, “We believe the 2.8 ratio [of students to a computer] means that teachers aren’t fighting over computers and they’ve got them when they need them. … If you tell me that it has to be 3.8, then I’m going to say for $3 a month off the tax bill, we’ve gone with a plan that’s not what we think is the best plan.”
Superintendent Hardy Murphy likewise said, “For an investment of $3 a month, we’re able to respond to the instructional needs in the classroom in this District. I think this kind of investment into the teaching and learning process, in support of our teachers, is another one of those transformative things that keeps us moving to the future.
“Progress requires risk-taking and requires some level of vision of where we want to go. … We ought to be able to take that risk for $3 a month.”
Keith Terry said, “I think this is a great plan. If money wasn’t an issue, I’d say run with it.” The Board voted unanimously to stick with the current ratio of one computer for every 3.8 students.