About the Technology Referendum, Part 2: What will it do, and why you should Vote Yes!

In the last post about the Technology Referendum, we looked at the District’s financial situation.  Now, let’s look at what is being proposed as the use for these funds and why I think you should Vote Yes! on November 8.

How the Funding Will Be Used

Currently, the District funds technology out of its general capital budget.  About $1 million per year (or roughly half the general capital budget) goes to technology.  And while $1 million is a lot of money, it only represents about one-fourth of what the District feels represents the true technology needs in the district.  In fact, of that $1 million in technology investment per year, most of it goes to software licensing.  There’s no annual capital plan for replacement of computers, or upgrading the network, or providing new capabilities on the district’s website.

The District is just now starting to get out some more specific information on how the funds will be used.  Over the past couple of weeks, I have had conversations with District officials in an attempt to put some detail behind some of these requests.

One of the most important things that would come out of the referendum would be a regular replacement cycle for the district’s computers.  Currently, some of the computer labs in the District have computers that are over 10 years old.  The range of applications that can be used with such computers is limited.  Additionally, the effort to maintain a network with computers that may be ranging in age by as much as 12 years creates significant challenges and additional expense.   The referendum would allow the district to move to a four- or five-year replacement cycle for computers used in student computer labs and by teachers in the classroom.

The number of computers available to students will also be increased.  Currently, there aren’t enough devices to meet the needs of students.  This is a particularly acute issue at standardized testing time.  As many of the standardized tests taken by our students have moved to computers instead of number 2 pencils and bubble sheets, other students are squeezed out of the computer labs.  For instance, my kindergartner didn’t get to visit the computer lab at any point in the first three weeks of school this year because of testing.  The use of tablet computers (such as iPads) will also help with this issue, as schools will be able to have mobile computer labs that can be brought to classrooms.  There will never be a point where the student to computer ratio will be 1:1, though.  This referendum is not about buying laptops or iPads and just giving them to the students.

Another major benefit that will come out the referendum is expanded and improved course content.  This will be most noticeable at the high school and middle school levels, where students will be able to take expanded college-level courses and participate in specialized STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs.  Project Lead The Way is an example of such curriculum — the District, though, is struggling to keep its computers up to the specifications of program.  But even elementary school students will see the benefits, as increasingly, classroom materials are going multimedia instead of on paper.  Another program that could have great benefit are innovation grants that will be made available to teachers in the District who develop new and exciting ways to improve student performance using technology.

The final key component is updates to the technology infrastructure.  This consists of many things, including improving support for student-owned devices.  So if your student has a laptop or a tablet, they will be able to get access to school resources and use them on their own devices.  Another set of important tools include interactive whiteboards (so-called “SmartBoards”) and classroom responding devices.  These tools make the classroom experience more interactive and allow the teachers to gauge student comprehension in real-time and without embarrassing students too shy to ask questions in front of the whole class.

Now, all of this doesn’t mean that technology is inherently better.  I’m sure we have experienced cases in our work or personal life where new technology has been introduced and it’s proven to in fact make things worse than they were before.

It is still incumbent on the teachers and other professionals of the District to make sure that this is not technology for the sake of technology, but rather that it is used effectively to make a difference in our children’s education.  And it the responsibility of the School Board, parents, and citizens to hold the District accountable for achieving results.

Vote Yes!

I do think that the District has made the case to pass this referendum, even in this difficult economic environment.

Let me recap the reasons I think that residents of District 112 should Vote Yes! on November 8:

  1. The District has responsibly handled the budget challenges of recent years:  Faced with two significant cuts in state aid, the District has responded appropriately.  They have made several rounds of budget cuts, and negotiated a tough, but fair contract with the District’s teachers.  Meanwhile, the District has continued to produce solid results on the various state tests, and there has been some improvement made in critical areas like the performance in math scores at Chaska High School.
  2. The world has changed, and we need to reach children where they are:  This is admittedly an intangible point.  The way we interact with the world has changed dramatically over the last 20 years.  As a senior in college, I remember installing Netscape 1.0 on my IBM computer with its “state-of-the-art” 9600 baud modem.  It took minutes to download a couple of e-mails.  My kindergartner doesn’t know of a world where high-speed internet didn’t exist.  Anybody who questions that children today aren’t accustomed to technology in ways that their parents aren’t has never played John Madden football on the Wii against a second-grader.  Part of making education relevant is presenting it in ways that resonate with students in their lives.  Children today are used to getting their information via technology, and part of their school day needs to reflect that (not to mention the fact that their work life will largely be ruled by the use of technology as well).
  3. The District has a plan for the use of these funds that is responsible and will provide benefit to students:  I do believe the District has a plan for the use of these funds that makes sense.  The goals of the referendum and the spending plan that the District has indicated make sense, for the reasons noted above.

I encourage you to do the following between now and November 8:

Polling Places
  • Residents of Carver: East Union Elementary School, 15655 County Road 43, Carver
  • Residents of Chaska/Chaska Township: Chaska Middle School West, 140 Engler Blvd. Chaska
  • Residents of Chanhassen:Chanhassen Recreation Center, 2310 Coulter Blvd., Chanhassen
  • Residents of Victoria/Laketown Township: Victoria City Hall, 7951 Rose, Victoria
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