This week’s edition of the Chaska Herald chronicles the decision of the Eastern Carver County School District not to place a referendum on the November ballot.
There was the potential for two questions to appear on the ballot. The first was a renewal of existing operating levies that expire at the end of the 2013-14 school year. These levies, which represent nearly 10% of the district’s annual operating budget, will certainly be placed on the ballot next year. The District is still trying to determine whether or not to ask for what they call a “cost of living adjustment” on the operating levy, slightly increasing the per-pupil amount to adjust for inflation over the 10-year life of the levy.
The second potential question was a technology levy. Last fall, voters rejected a $2 million annual package designed to upgrade the district’s technology infrastructure, replace aging equipment, and implement new technology-based learning programs. For several months, District administration and the School Board have been kicking around two versions of a new technology plan — one costing $5 million annually and one costing $2 million annually — which they would seek funds via referendum to fund. The Herald story on the discussion surrounding putting this issue on the ballot revealed two encouraging points.
1. ) The District takes seriously the amount of educating that needs to be done if a technology bond issue is going to pass.
Despite the good efforts of the Vote Yes! committee, the District didn’t give them a great hand to work with. The District was slow to make available information that was easy for voters to digest. That delay in getting information out allowed referendum opponents to frame the debate in their terms and left the District administration and committee to answer for decisions made years earlier.
The other thing that’s important to realize here is that it important to have a real discussion of how technology enhances learning. The generation who are parents now didn’t grow up (by and large) with schools wired to the internet, electronic whiteboards, or tablet computers. Parents today have also likely seen technology projects in their work or personal lives that were supposed to deliver great result that just ended up being sorta “cool” but not making any real impact.
The idea that the District is going to put together demonstration labs of this new technology is encouraging. First, it will give District personnel real-time opportunities to try these technologies out and see in fact how they impact student learning. Second, it will give them the ability to demonstrate this impact to voters in the District so they can see how it improves the classroom experience.
2.) The District is reconsidering the idea of providing devices to all students at a certain grade level.
This is a real point of contention with many parents in the District, and not just ones who are politically predisposed to be against any sort of tax increase. Parents are uncomfortable with this on many levels, and in my opinion, this just isn’t the time to go down this route.
The District should instead focus on making it easier for students to use their own devices in the school environment as well as increasing availability of devices for students who don’t have computer resources at home — whether it is expanded computer lab hours after school or on weekends or lending out devices to students as needed for projects.
One other key takeaway from the article: We see again in this story the struggles that our school districts are going through in dealing with legislative uncertainty. If we want our school districts to be good stewards of taxpayer money, then legislators in St. Paul and the Governor need to stop using K-12 education as their piggy bank when the state budget needs to be balanced.