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Current technology important for learning (07/15/2007)
On June 21, 2007, a report was made to the Winona Area Public Schools Board of Education outlining many of the technology issues being faced locally and statewide in our public schools. Following are some of the details and clarification on Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) technology issues pertaining to the current state of technology, funding to maintain adequate and unfunded/underfunded mandates. As indicated in the recent WAPS Community Survey, "More that 80% of the voters in the district agree that up-to-date technology is important."

The majority of the computers that are currently in use by the staff and students in the WAPS system are aged and outdated. These aging computers are becoming less and less functional as technology advancements continue to outpace the capabilities of these computers. Many of them are now falling into disrepair or are being hindered by the level of software they are able to run. In fact, 51% of the computers being used by WAPS students are now more than seven years old.

This aging equipment is preventing the teaching staff from effectively integrating technology use into their curriculum. It is preventing our students from experiencing the potential of wireless and mobile computing, from realizing an anywhere, anytime computing vision. The majority of the classroom and lab computers are unable to run many current software applications or have the ability to access the growing list of websites that are now inaccessible by their outdated operating systems.

The MN Department of Education requirement that the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment testing be completed online before 2009 is creating another technology need for school districts across the state. This is an unfunded mandate by the state and adequate funding is not being provided. The cost to Minnesota school districts in hardware, software, and implementation will be significant.

Previous attempts at securing adequate funding for technology upgrades, to date, have been unsuccessful, as evidenced by the following failed initiatives;

1997 - Technology question removed from new middle school ballot.

1998 - Failed technology referendum

2005 - Failed technology referendum (defeated by 14 votes)

While there is also district capital funding that is used for some technology purchases, those dollars are limited and must be distributed across the district for multiple needs in not only technology, but also for facilities maintenance, capital improvements and other necessary equipment and repairs.

As part of the report to the Board of Education, I also outlined potential sources for funding the technology needs of our school system. While the ultimate need is to have an ongoing budget for keeping our school technology current, the sources identified are primarily based on available one-time funding.

One of these sources is the financial award (received in the form of purchase vouchers) to be used for the purchase of equipment and software as the result of a settlement between Minnesota consumers and Microsoft Corporation. This award is to be used between January 2006 and January 2012. There are strict limitations on how these vouchers may be used. Eligible school districts and charter schools must adhere to the 50 percent split between hardware purchases and 50 percent for software purchases. Schools must also adhere to the allocation amount supplied by the Microsoft Claims Administrator for each school based on free and reduced price lunch counts. Vouchers are nontransferable between schools. Based on the method in which the vouchers were allocated, the smaller school buildings did not receive much funding. For example, Rollingstone Elementary only received $3,831.00, of which there is a required 50/50 split between hardware and software. The majority of this Microsoft funding has not been expended. To date, only 37% of these voucher dollars have been claimed for reimbursement. These expenditures were primarily for classroom computers and technology.

Another potential source is the E-12 Education Bill that was recently passed by the Minnesota Legislature. This bill contains limited one-time funding that can be used for technology, as well as other capital improvements and building maintenance.

The school district is also awaiting a decision from the Winona Education Association on a request to authorize the use of some staff development funds to purchase technology items for the WEA membership. These funds would be used to provide technology upgrades for the district's licensed instructional staff. The authorization to use these funds to purchase technology for the teaching staff would then allow the district to use some of the other identified funding sources to purchase needed technology upgrades for our students.

The other source of technology funding is through the use of grants, gifts, donations and fundraising. WAPS has been very fortunate to receive the assistance of local community groups, businesses and the many volunteers that have worked extremely hard to provide funds for technology purchases for our students. While these funds are limited and sporadic in nature, they are a much appreciated resource to augment the WAPS technology program.

The school district is in the process of analyzing all of these potential sources to fund technology improvements in our schools. We want to make the best and most efficient use of our limited one-time funding sources and do the best we can to create a better technology environment for both staff and students.

The Internet, along with digital and multimedia technology, has made our children globally connected. How many adolescent age children do you know who do not have a cell phone, an iPod, MP3 player, digital camera, Instant Messenger, or a Facebook or MySpace site? It is an every- day part of their lives. It is incumbent on all of us to ensure the students and staffs of our school systems have the tools to be engaged, motivated and prepared to embrace their technology driven futures.

If you would like to read more about our technology needs and plans please visit our website at www.winona.k12.mn.us

Kevin Flies has been the Technology Director for the Winona Area Public Schools - District #861 since 1997.



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