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District 833 teachers in line for major computer upgrade

All School District 833 classroom teachers will soon get new laptop computers to replace outdated desktop computers.

The purchase, for about 1,200 teachers, will be made all at once, instead of replacing the desktop computers on a staged basis, according to Andrew Baldwin, district director or technology. The laptops will be purchased using the district's lease levy.

The first year's lease-levy payment of $400,000 was approved in a district budget that got the nod from the School Board earlier this year, according to Baldwin and Keith Ryskoski, assistant superintendent of secondary instruction.

Before recommending the purchase of new laptop computers, Baldwin created a district inventory of staff computers. Half of the desktops are very outdated, Ryskoski said. After the district put a new math program in place, it discovered that some computers couldn't run the accompanying software programs.

The old desktops will be recycled or reused in other areas of the district, he said.

Teachers were asked to fill out a lengthy survey, according to Baldwin, to determine what teachers wanted to do with new computers. More than 40 percent responded and programs that allow them to be more creative, such as digital graphics and videos, were at the top of the list.

Instead of using state contracting to buy the new computers, the technology department recommended asking for bids instead. Under the state system, the district would get computers only and no support training or software customization, Baldwin said.

Though bids are yet to be evaluated from Lenovo, HP, Dell and Apple, it appears the total cost will be less than the state contract, according to Baldwin.

Scrutiny will be part of the process of awarding the bid, Ryskoski said, so the district doesn't buy software that will be outdated "in two weeks."

Teachers will be allowed to take the laptops home. If the machines are stolen or broken, they are usually covered by household insurance, he said.

For now, teachers will have opportunities to download programs. The district wants teachers to have ownership and be innovative, Baldwin said.

"I don't want to lose information that the district owns, said School Board member Ron Kath.

Buying carrying cases is being evaluated but are expensive, Baldwin said, and several already purchased by the district aren't being used.

Board member Jim Gelbmann said many teachers already have carrying cases or roll bags to take books and school work to and from work.

Superintendent Mark Porter said no administrators would be getting new laptops.

Board member Tracy Brunnette asked when students would be allowed to bring their own laptops to school.

Though all district buildings have wireless Internet capability, Ryskoski said there is not enough power to allow all students to use the system.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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