Technology review gets underway

Technology review gets underway
Posted on 08/02/2019

The Tahoma School Board began its review of a proposed plan for classroom technology during its special meeting on July 30.

The board also held a public hearing on the proposed operating budget for the 2019-2020 school year. No one signed up to speak or submit comments during the public hearing. The budget is scheduled for adoption at the Aug. 6 School Board meeting.

The majority of the meeting was devoted to a presentation about classroom technology and how it could be funded. Dawn Wakeley, executive director of Teaching and Learning, led the discussion.

In describing the work done last school year by a task force of parents, staff and students to design a technology model and by a separate technology committee to draft a usage plan, Wakeley said the district has a clear vision for classroom technology’s role in supporting empowered learning strategies that fit within Tahoma’s Future Ready initiative.

“We truly think this is what we need for our students to be competitive,” she said.

The technology model and usage plan were developed in the wake of a failed technology levy in 2018. The district is using fund-balance reserves to maintain existing classroom technology but has reduced support staffing and suspended purchases of new equipment and software.

With a classroom technology model and operating plan in place, the School Board now must decide how to pay for the district’s classroom technology vision. The board reviewed initial cost estimates, along with proposed alternatives designed to reduce the number of dollars needed from a technology levy.

Cost reductions are grouped into four areas:

  • Purchase less expensive equipment or rethink the strategy;
  • One-time costs that could be paid for from the district’s fund-balance reserve;
  • One-time costs that could be considered capital projects, which could be paid from the capital projects fund;
  • Use the general fund for a limited number of ongoing expenses.

The recommended changes would reduce the estimated amount of a proposed four-year technology levy from $22.1 million to $13.9 million. Among the major cost shifts would be replacement of old computers and purchase of 515 additional computers to increase science and math access by using $3.5 million from the fund reserve balance, which is not a sustainable funding source.

An area of the technology plan about which School Board members expressed concern is whether to phase in hiring technology coaches to support teachers or to add them immediately, using fund-balance reserves to avoid delays in providing classroom support. More research and discussion is planned.

The Board also discussed when funds would be available if voters approve a 2020 technology levy. Funds would not be collected until spring of 2021 if the levy is approved in 2020, which prompted discussion of whether the district could borrow from its fund-balance reserve to begin implementing the technology plan at the start of the 2020-2021 school year. More discussion is planned.

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