Schools anticipating future tech needs
By Matt Reinig | Hernando TodayBROOKSVILLE - The Hernando County School District's Department of Technology and Information Services discussed with school board members Tuesday the possibility of renewing a soon-to-expire half-cent sales tax to fund a multimillion-dollar proposal.
Published: December 13, 2012
Published: December 13, 2012
It would increase the district's hardware capacity, double bandwidth speed, upgrade wireless capacity in high schools and replace obsolete equipment by 2017.
"(Department of Technology and Information Services) didn't give any specific figures, but we know how expensive technology is," School Board member Dianne Bonfield said. "It's going to be very, very expensive."
Unlike an estimated $1.7 million request presented to the board Tuesday for fiscal year 2013-14 that had been previously budgeted — of which $1 million would be allocated for wireless and bandwidth hardware and support, and about $700,000 for a one-time software solution purchase for the district's business system — the long-term upgrades pose greater challenges budget-wise.
The requested upgrades are based on the K-12 Education Technology Modernization Initiative: a Florida Department of Education proposal circulating in the state legislature and requesting $441.8 million in upgrades statewide to transition to computer-based testing.
The initiative goals are to have a 1:1 student-to-computer ratio, with high-speed wireless connectivity to all Florida schools, and have broadband access on all campus computers.
"They have a proposal they put out there for the state to review; it's still just a proposal, and I don't know that it has reached the legislature part yet," Director of Technology and Information Services Melissa Harts said.
"In some form or another, the state is looking for ways to prepare for computer-based testing. The end result and requirements, I don't know what they would be, but they will be looking at those areas and have been."
The Hernando County School District is one of 67 in the state that does not have the broadband infrastructure needed to service what the proposal is requesting, according to a Florida Department of Education report, and 1,616 schools will need high-density wireless infrastructures.
But these technologies can be made available for the district within the next five years, Harts said.
Based on responses from board members at the presentation — Matt Foreman said he had a time conflict and was unable to attend, and Cynthia Moore was out with a spine infection — there appeared to be support for the measure.
"Something's got to give," Board member John Sweeney said. "The way we're looking at it today is, some way we will meet the requirements."
But "the elephant in the room" the board and district would soon have to address is how to fund it.
The board discussed the possibility of funding the upgrades with the School Capital Outlay Surtax, more commonly referred to as the school half-cent sales tax, which the school board approved in 2004 after Hernando County voters OK'd a local referendum lasting 10 years. It is set to expire Dec. 31, 2014.
The roughly $7.1 million in sales tax proceeds must be used for fixed capital expenditures or fixed capital costs associated with the construction, reconstruction, or improvement of school facilities and campuses with "a useful life-expectancy of five or more years," as well as any land acquisition, land improvement, design, and engineering costs associated with such facilities and campuses.
Should the board decide to renew the tax when it sunsets December 2014, it could revise its referendum language to include technology upgrades, and Hernando County voters could decide at the polls if they wanted to fund any approved upgrades with the half-cent sales tax.
"For us to be able to keep up with the mandates coming down from the state, they're very aggressive, and no district can meet their requirements," Bonfield said.
"This was the first time I have heard about renewing the half-cent sales tax, and this would certainly be something we would have to discuss further."
Superintendent of Schools Bryan Blavatt said there is not a lot of resale value for obsolete technologies the district seeks to replace, namely because new technologies are readily replacing the old.
"They're replacing the equipment so quickly," Blavatt said. "You learn to love your computer until it dies, and that's what we're doing."
According to Harts, the school district plans to pass Florida's Comprehensive Assessment Test 2.0 certification for computer-based testing by 2013-14, increase bandwidth to at least 100 megabits per second per 1,000 students and staff by 2014-15, and to at least 1 gigabit per second per 1,000 students and staff by 2017-18.
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