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11/16/19 Schools eye $5M–$7M technology plan

Schools eye $5M–$7M technology plan
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 11/16/19    
Reprinted with permission.
      
A lot of technology has gone into Alamance-Burlington Schools over the years, and among the things technology does best is get old.

“If [computers] are not replaced, the software on them won’t work with some of the software schools are using,” ABSS Chief Technology Officer Dennis Frye told the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education this week.

Frye presented a three-year technology purchasing and maintenance plan that, according to ABSS, will cost $4.9 million to $7.4 million over that time, and be a planned expense going forward, like the capital plan for maintaining and expanding buildings.

“This is a precursor to what we are going to need to build over time, which is a replacement cycle,” Superintendent Bruce Benson said. “A lot of this is mission critical.”

The range in estimates comes from cost differences between leasing and buying, and telecommunications discounts schools can get.

Board member Brian Feeley said the district would be spending money on technology no matter what.

“We’ve spent a lot on technology. It just hasn’t been planned,” Feeley said.

Making it an ongoing cost, Frye said, technology spending wouldn’t be a surprise in every budget cycle anymore.

The plan includes lots of things, including obvious ones, like new laptops for teachers and students, $8,000 or $9,000 at a time on four- or five-year cycles.

Things like classroom systems teachers can use to restrict what students have access to on wireless networks, are less obvious, but Frye said teachers like the idea of having a tool to keep students focused on classwork. It wouldn’t keep them from accessing cell networks on phones, though.

There is also security software to keep malware and hackers out of the systems and keep students from accessing things they shouldn’t, and data and power backups so information isn’t lost when things go wrong.

Hiring a new systems administrator would be another ongoing cost, and network technicians would, by the end of the three-year plan, have five vans to work at the district’s nearly 40 different sites.

Until now, Frye said, technology budgeting has been left to schools, which often lean on donations to get to the district’s long-term goal of having computers for all students and staff — what is called “One to one.”

“We are not at a point where all students have access to computers every day,” Frye said.

The board will have a chance to vote on the plan Dec. 2.