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Many computers in schools too old

School officials plan to ask Washington County Commissioners in mid-March for $1.5 million for computer replacement.

School officials plan to ask Washington County Commissioners in mid-March for $1.5 million for computer replacement.

November 14, 2002|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - A majority of computers in Washington County Public Schools are too old to be Internet-compatible, giving teachers limited use of new software to teach a generation already immersed in technology, according to officials with the school system.

Of the 5,317 computers in the school system, 81 percent are 4 years or older. According to William Blum, chief operating officer of the school system, 2,620 of the system's computers are between 4 and 7 years old and barely Internet-compatible, while another 1,690 are 8 years or older and not Internet-compatible.

Blum said the school system wants to replace the oldest set of 1,690 computers as soon as possible at an estimated cost of $1.7 million. The problem is the school system only has $200,000 in its budget for computer equipment.

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"These PCs - you couldn't give them away and they need to be replaced," Blum said.

Blum and other school officials plan to ask the Washington County Commissioners in mid-March for $1.5 million for computer replacement.

He said the added $1.5 million would enable the school system to replace the oldest computers with newer ones, at a cost of about $880 per computer.

"They wouldn't be top of the line, but they'd be functional," Blum said.

He said certain technology-based grants like Technology in Maryland Schools and Technology Literacy Challenge Funds - which were intended to build up networks, not replace computers - have ended this year or been cut in half, respectively.

Computers also must be maintained, updated and wired to the school system's central system - all of which cost additional money.

Currently, the school system has six computer technicians for the entire school system, Blum said. He said the state requires systems to have one technician per 300 computers, but most Maryland districts don't meet that standard.

He said the school system plans to spend $15,000 a year to train its technicians and is developing plans to provide the training at Hagerstown Community College over an 18-month period.

As far as updates to computers, the oldest ones cannot have newer software programs placed on them, which restricts the flow of information to students.

To keep up with ever-changing technology, the school system would need to have $1.3 million per year to keep computers on a 4-year recycle period, Blum said.

David Mundey, the system's network manager, said most of the older computers - Apple 2Es and Macintosh computers - are at elementary schools, where children need the computers less for instruction, but where many get their first introduction to technology.

Of the 25 elementary schools in Washington County, 10 are Title I, meaning they have higher poverty levels based on the percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals. Children attending those schools may not have access to a computer at home, Blum said.

He said the digital divide - wealthier children who have computers versus poorer children without them - needs to be bridged, and buying new computers will help the system to do so.

Stephanie Hannah, an instructional technology resource teacher, said all schools have some variation of old to new computers, but in elementary schools the students use older computers for basic skill applications.

Popular programs that can be run on older computers include Speedway Math and Number Crunchers, which can be used by students to practice math skills and get fast results, according to Leslie Hanks, another instructional technology resource teacher.

"Basically, teachers can make the best of what they have," Hanks said.

The newer computers have software programs with bright colors and graphics that attract and stimulate younger students, Hanks said.

Both resource teachers shook their heads no when asked if teachers were happy with using the old computers.

"After you drive the Cadillac, you don't want to go back to the four wheels and a board," Hannah said.

Ike Williams, supervisor of instructional technology library media services, said donations of computers rarely make a significant impact on bringing computers up to speed, because most of the time the donations are out-of-date PCs.

"If someone donates a PC to you and it's older than what you have, then it's not really a gift," Williams said.

Blum said older computers also limit teacher use of e-mail systems in order to exchange ideas.

"It's a disservice to the schools overall," he said.

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