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Saying she hoped to be able to add new technology in a better budget year, Stacey Beardsley, District 65’s Interim Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction presented a trimmed and pared budget of $400,000 for technology for the 2016-17 school year.
For many years, the District has financed the cost of purchasing computers, certain software, technology infrastructure and other equipment through the Debt Service Extension Base (DSEB). Last month the Distract learned that the amounts available through the DSEB would decrease from $1.9 million to $400,000. The spending for future years is also limited.
In a memo dated May 5, Dr. Beardsley described proposed technology spending for the District for 2016-17, which includes only $337,000 for operating and enterprise systems and $63,000 for instructional technology and subscription software.
“There will be no new leases for technology,” Dr. Beardsley said at the May 9 meeting of the District’s Finance Committee. “Our focus is ensuring that our basic infrastructure is maintained and that we have enough software in order to operate the District. … This is not pretty for the future, but at least we’re sustaining the quality of work and maintaining the software pool that we’re using so that we can continue on.”
The plan does not call for replacing or refurbishing any students computers or tablets, although a substantial number of these are or will soon be in need of repair.
Rather than switching to Chromebooks for teachers, the District will continue to use Apple hardware and software.
“The [technology] team made an important choice of sticking with Apple,” said Superintendent Paul Goren. “We could have spent some money to go with Chromebooks. We decided not to, partly because of the extensive use of laptops for lessons.”
“It’s incrementally cheaper to go with Chromebooks,” said Dr. Beardsley, “but there are two factors we have in play: We’ll get more life out of MacBooks and at the end of the life cycle the MacBooks are worth more in buybacks. Also the software used by educators – especially special education teachers – runs only on Macs.”
“I don’t know how important each of these devices is to the daily teaching and learning and what the impact they’re having today,” said Board member Candance Chow, who chairs the Finance Committee. “So, should we take something away, what’s going to be the consequence and the implications of that?”
Board member Claudia Garrison said she appreciated the completeness of the proposal, “because some people say, ‘You’re wasting all that money on technology that we’re not really using.’”
Board member Jennifer Phillips asked for a “spectrum of use – how important technology is to students of different ages.”
Board member Omar Brown asked, “When are you going to come back to us with what we are going to do for 2017-18 – because it looks like you’re going to be 25% operational. You’re not going to wait till 2017-18 to make the decision?”
“I don’t know,” said Dr. Beardsley, indicating that a decision would have to be made on that.
“The budget comes before the Board in August,” said Mary Brown, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services.
“Don’t they need to have a technology strategy?” asked Mr. Brown.
“We’re working on a strategy right now,” said Dr. Beardsley. “Part of our challenge right now is that conditions have changed on us even in just the last three months … we will continue over the summer. We were pretty far down the road on a five-year plan before conditions changes and we had to reset. … We can plan for the current circumstances, but the challenge remains the circumstance for which we need to plan. … The current circumstances don’t give us a lot to plan for.”
Board member Suni Kartha said, “We have to remember that this is the context of a dismal DSEB. Talking of priority-based budgeting, this has to be talked about in the context of ‘Is this the priority over [for example] other structural buildings?’… We can’t talk about it in a vacuum without talking about other things too.”
Board member Richard Rykhus, conversely, asked for a more expansive vision for technology at the District. “I know this year we’re imposing real constraints financially. I’m hoping that you’ll come up with a vision for technology that’s not constrained by our financial state. So dream big.”
“We need to think about what’s possible. We also need to think about how we can do with what we have,” said Dr. Beardsley.
“We have to see the Tesla model,” said Ms. Kartha, “but we’ll have to see the Yugo, too.”
“If I were to summarize,” said Ms. Chow: “We want that vision and then we’ll have to figure out how we layer toward the vision.”
The Board’s vote on the technology proposal for the 2016-17 budget is scheduled for May 23.