Lora Taira, chief information officer of School District 65, presented a three-year technology plan to the District 65 School Board on Feb. 25. A memorandum listing some significant revisions to the plan was presented, but not discussed, at the Board’s Finance Committee meeting on March 11. In discussing a proposed bond issue, though, some Board members expressed concerns about the cost.

The Technology Plan

The technology plan is required to be filed with the Illinois State Board of Education using a prescribed format. The plan states its goal is to improve student achievement, and it states strategies and activities to meet the goal in areas of instruction, professional development, and technology deployment.

As an example, the plan states two “strategies” to improve instruction: “effective use of digital tools and resources in everyday instruction” and “ensure instructional technologies are used to address the learning needs of low income students, students with disabilities, and English language learners.”

Three of the “activities” to implement these strategies are:

• “Instructional facilitators continue to support teachers within the classroom on the use of digital tools and resources, co-teaching when necessary;”

• “Students are engaged in solving authentic problems;” and,

• “Students and teachers will use collaborative software (such as Edmodo, wikis) to share work and ideas.”

Under the Feb. 25 plan, the total cost for infrastructure work and new equipment purchased in the first year was $4.1 million, $3.6 million of which would be financed through a four-year lease.

Board member Richard Rykhus acknowledged that the District was constrained by the State’s template in preparing its technology plan. He asked, though, that administrators explain in a narrative form what technology will look like over the next three years, what will be different, and how it fits into student learning, collaboration among teachers and administrative tasks.

Board member Tracy Quattrocki said she attended one of the forums held to gather input for the plan. She said teachers uniformly said they needed more training to transform their classrooms with technology and to use technology for project-based learning. “I want to know how we’re going to get there,” she said, adding that she wanted to be sure the budget included adequate amounts for professional development.

Ms. Taira said, “That is the feedback we heard across the board at all the meetings – the need for more professional development.” She said the plan listed many activities to train teachers, including sending specialists into the classrooms to assist and show teachers how to use technology, sort of on-the-job training.

Patti Tzortzis, instructional technology coordinator, said there are two specialists in the District, plus herself, who are currently providing this type of training in the classrooms.

Board President Katie Bailey expressed concerns about the cost. “I don’t think we can spend $2 million a year out of the debt service extension base,” she said.

In a memorandum presented to the Finance Committee on March 11, Ms. Taira provided additional narrative about the technology plan and also proposed cost reductions.

The memo explained the District will add a wireless access point to every classroom ($368,900) and begin the transition to more powerful and cost-efficient servers ($200,000 in the first year). This will speed up the time to log into and sync to the network, which currently takes students up to 10 minutes, she said. It will also provide a more stable wireless connection that is needed for online testing and everyday instruction.

In a major shift, the revised plan proposes to move away from laptops to iPads or Chromebooks. Initially the District was proposing to replace 1,714 (about 35 percent) of the District’s student computers – which are over five years old – with MacBook Pro 13-inch laptops at a cost of $1,280 each. Now the District has decided to purchase iPads or Chromebooks at a cost of about $475 each. “The District will increase its buying power threefold by moving away from MacBooks for students,” said Ms. Taira in her memorandum.

The District proposes to implement a pilot next year using Chromebooks. The cost to purchase 532 Lenovo Chromebooks to be used in the pilot is $252,700. A pilot using iPads is already underway. The proposed plan is to replace the remaining student computers with either iPads or Chromebooks, one-half in the 2014-15 school year and the other half in 2015-16.

Under the revised plan, the District also proposes to replace 150 projectors that are over six years old, replace 250 desktop computers that are seven or more years old and that are used by administrative and school staff, rewire Bessie Rhodes, replace the firewall, pay annual licensing and purchase computer supplies.

Under the revised budget, the total cost for the infrastructure work and new equipment in the first year is $1.7 million, $1.2 million of which would be financed through a four-year lease. The budget reflects that payments totaling $1,477,806 would be made in the first year: $312,500 for an annual lease payment under the new four-year lease; $499,000 for other current expenses incurred in year one; and $666,106 due under prior leases.

The total cost for infrastructure work and new equipment and licenses in the second year is $2.1 million, $1.8 million of which would be financed through a four-year lease. The cost of infrastructure and equipment and licenses in the third year is $1.6 million, $1.3 million of which would be financed through a four-year lease.

On March 11, Ms. Bailey continued to express concerns about the cost. Ms. Quattrocki questioned whether it was necessary to replace all student computers. It is anticipated the Board will discuss the plan and the costs at a subsequent meeting.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...