A quick way to distinguish the Petoskey school district’s older computer workstations from its newer ones is exterior color.
The older machines used in some labs and classrooms — some dating back 10 years or more — have white cases, rather than the black ones that have become the norm in recent years.
But Steve Neal, the district’s technology director, cites function rather than fashion as the reason school officials would like to begin replacing the computer inventory.
That process is one of the key priorities Neal said the district will pursue if local voters approve a technology bond proposal on the May election ballot. The school board approved placement of the bond proposal on the ballot last week
Roughly a third of the bond sale’s $4.9 million in proceeds would be applied to updated computer equipment.
“We’ve got to make sure that the labs are current technology for the benefit of the students,” Neal said.
He noted that the schools’ older computers don’t have the performance specs needed to support recent versions of operating, productivity and Web browsing software. This can be challenging when students try to transfer files onto these workstations from others, and precludes use of some of the more advanced features — interactive ones, for example — in websites.
In the years since the district’s last technology bond sale in the late 1990s, Neal said the district has used a piecemeal approach for funding computer equipment. With Michigan school districts’ fiscal situation becoming tighter in recent years, Petoskey typically hasn’t had significant funds available in its general budget for technology updates.
Instead, the district has tapped sources such as grants and vocational education budgets to replace workstations in high-traffic areas.
“Whenever we get a few bucks, we try to do what we can, but it’s never enough,” Neal said.
Along with desktop computers, Neal noted that the district intends to pursue other electronic devices for student and staff use if the bond proposal passes.
Document cameras are one example. Already in use in some Petoskey classrooms, these would replace older overhead projectors, giving teachers more flexibility and convenience to display documents or other items for their classes, and allowing easier viewing by students.
School officials also would like to make portable electronic devices — sets of tablet computers, for example — available for group projects.
Webcams — providing opportunities for video interaction with people in remote locations — are on the district’s list of priorities for the bond proceeds as well.
Technology infrastructure is another priority that Neal said the district would pursue with bond proceeds. He noted that the district hopes to update the existing fiberoptic network linking its buildings to address wear and tear issues and create redundancy, and to upgrade outside connections with Internet service providers to fiber status. The district also would like to add wireless networking options at school sites.
Updates to the district’s phone system — including the addition of cordless phones for staff who frequently travel from one building to another — are among the district’s objectives for the bond proceeds. Safety and security items — such as surveillance cameras for some locations — are as well.
Neal noted that some local parents and information technology professionals have joined district staff members on a committee that’s been planning the technology initiative.
Neal said the district aims to take an economical approach to the technology updates. When any devices with advanced features are pursued, he said efforts will be made to make sure they’re viable rather than simply “new and shiny.”
“We’re not flush in this region economically,” Neal said. “We want to respect that money and be the best stewards possible.”
Proposal: With voter approval, the school district would sell bonds to generate $4.9 million for technology resources
Election date: Tuesday, May 8
Paying for it: If the bond sale is approved, the district would levy approximately 0.4 mill in property taxes over eight years to allow bond repayment
Tax bill impact: For the owner of a $100,000 home, the technology levy would mean about $20 more on a yearly property-tax bill. For the owner of a $200,000 home, the yearly impact would be about $40
Interest cost: Bond repayment would involve about $1.1 million in interest expenses for the district