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After making an initial presentation of a three-year technology plan to the Board on Feb. 25, District 65 administrators revised the plan, cutting down the budgeted costs to about $1.5 million in the first year.

At the April 22 School Board meeting, Board member Richard Rykhus asked a series of questions regarding many of the proposed expenditures, saying he was exploring if there was a way to shave off further costs.

Board member Tracy Quattrocki asked about increasing the amount of training for teachers on how to use technology in the classroom, which she said was the main concern teachers expressed in a forum she attended. The proposed budget does not build in increased amounts to do this, but the technology plan provides for professional development, said Lora Taira, chief information officer for the District.

Board President Katie Bailey asked if there were standards or norms showing how much other school districts spend annually on technology. She said she thought $1.5 million was a lot. The District will attempt to get these figures.

In the end, the Board approved, by a 6-0 vote, spending $1,470,806 on technology out of the District’s capital funds in the 2012-13 school year.

Infrastructure Improvements

One important aspect of the technology plan is 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, said Ms. Taira. It takes an equal amount of time to save documents and log off the computer, she said.

“The result is that 20 minutes are wasted in order for teachers to incorporate the students’ use of technology in the lesson,” she said.

Making these infrastructure investments will increase the time available to actually use computers in the classrooms, said Ms. Taira. The new infrastructure will also provide a more stable wireless connection that is needed for everyday instruction and online testing, including for the new tests being developed by the State Board of Education in partnership with other states, she added.

Shifting to iPads or Chromebooks

In a major shift, the revised plan proposes to hold up on the purchase of laptops for student use, and instead to continue a pilot using iPads and to beef up an evaluation pilot using Chromebooks. The pilot of Chromebooks will be at two schools with each student having access to a Chromebook, so deployment issues can be examined across grade levels, said Ms. Taira. The pilot program will use the full Google Apps for Education Suite.

On Feb. 25, the District was proposing to replace 1,809 (about 35 percent) of the District’s student computers – almost all of which are over five years old – with MacBook Pro 13-inch laptops at a cost of $1,280 each, or a total cost of about $2.3 million. Now the District seems inclined to abandon the use of laptops for student use and to shift to either iPads or Chromebooks. Chromebooks cost $475 each, about one-third the cost of a MacBook Pro laptop.

“The District will increase its buying power threefold by moving away from MacBooks for students,” said Ms. Taira.

She added that another advantage of iPads and Chromebooks is they boot up in seconds and do not need to sync, because everything is either saved on the device or in the cloud.

“We may find that tablets work better than Chromebooks in certain grades or content areas. For example, other districts have found tablets to be a better tool for students K-2 and Chromebooks to be better suited for students in grades 3-8,” said Ms. Taira. “We need to take the coming year to fully explore how these technologies fit with District 65’s curriculum and instruction and the technology competencies that are being developed this summer.”

The plan is to replace one-half of the student computers with either iPads or Chromebooks in 2014-15, and the remaining student computers with either iPads or Chromebooks in 2015-16.

Other Technology/Budgeted Costs

Under the revised plan, the District also proposes to replace 150 Promethean boards that are over six years old with less expensive Epson projectors, replace 50 document cameras that are seven or more years old, replace 250 PCs that are seven or more years old and that are used by administrative staff, replace the five-year-old 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 $1,470,806 would be made in the first year: $309,500 for an annual lease payment under the new four-year lease; $495,200 for other 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.

Recap of District 65’s Available Capital Funding

After paying for the building projects previously approved for this summer and paying for technology approved by the Board on April 22, District 65 will have a balance of about $200,000 in cash available for capital projects, said Mary Brown, chief financial officer for the District.

She said the District could also issue bonds to pay for capital expenses up to about $10 million under its Debt Service Extension Base (DSEB), without the need for a referendum. That amount increases by about $2.5 million each levy year.

At the Board’s April 22 meeting, Ms. Brown presented a schedule showing the District could spend $7.1 million for roofing and masonry work, $8.1 million for technology, $1.6 million for secure entrances, and $2.3 million for other projects spread out over the summers of 2014 through 2018, and have available funding capacity of $3.5 million after the summer 2018 projects.

The schedule does not include many possible capital expenditures on the table.

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...