January 23, 2013

School board considers Waterville schools tech-budget hike

Technology director Will Backman asking for a 29 percent increase to purchase new computers

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- If you don't invest in education, eventually it'll catch up with you and cost a bundle.

That was a pervading theme at Tuesday's meeting of the Board of Education, where administrators presented their proposed budgets for 2013-14.

Will Backman, technology director for Alternative Organizational Structure 92, which includes Waterville, Winslow and Vassalboro, presented a proposed $792,859 technology budget for Waterville schools alone.

The proposal is a 29 percent increase over the current $614,634 budget, but like other departments, technology upgrades have been limited because there just has not been enough money to go around, according to both Backman and School Superintendent Eric Haley.

"We have been treading water, attempting not to slip further under," Backman said.

Backman is asking for a budget increase of $178,000 to purchase new computers, enhancing technology in classrooms.

About five years ago, he said, the schools bought laptops for teachers at George J. Mitchell School and Waterville Senior High School, and for sixth-grade teachers. Those computers are at the end of their fifth year of use, and computers should be replaced every five years, Backman said.

Lab computers at the Mitchell School are seven years old and computers in the high school media center and learning lab, which are heavily used, are six years old, according to Backman.

Board member Pam Trinward said she agrees that technology has been underfunded. Students using the learning and media centers at the high school must use computers there because they do not have adequate technology at home, she said.

Waterville schools own and use more than 1,000 traditional computers, and all seventh- and eighth-graders use a few hundred laptops supplied by the state through the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, according to Backman.

He proposes expanding laptop distribution to sixth-graders, as well as moving four technology "carts," which contain computers and other electronics, now used by sixth-graders, to the high school, as a way to bolster much-needed technology there.

Ultimately, Backman said, the Waterville school system has been replacing computers, but at a slower rate than its five-year replacement cycle recommends.

"This budget represents what we think is the best path to achieve our technology vision and we hope the budget can support that path," he said after he spoke to the board.

During his presentation, Backman said Waterville schools are good stewards of the technology they have, but really haven't moved forward in the past few years as far as replacing computers.

"We should be buying 200 computers every year at $800 a computer, for $160,000 a year, just to tread water," he said.

Haley said schools are facing the same dilemma with delayed textbook upgrades.

"We could end up with huge numbers with textbooks (purchases) if we don't start doing something soon," he said.

What the technology department faces is a common issue facing schools everywhere, according to Haley.

"It eventually catches up," he said.

Trinward said schools must keep up with technology, as it has to be a big part of students' education.

"Technology is here to stay," she said. "The reality is, technology is part of life."

Amy Calder -- 861-9247



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