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29 percent of school computers don't meet standards

December 24, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Twenty-nine percent of the computers in Washington County Public Schools don't meet state Department of Education standards, a school official said.

The Maryland State Department of Education this year raised its standards for computer quality, placing a Pentium2 Processor with 64 megabites of memory at the base of its qualifier list. By that standard, 1,542 of the school system's 5,317 computers are inadequate for the schools, said William Blum, the school system's chief operating officer.

Normally, the school system would use grant money to buy computers to replace those that are outdated, but Blum said those grants are no longer available.

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Replacing computers could be budgeted under the school system's capital improvement plan, Blum said, but that plan for next year lists mostly school construction projects and is at risk of losing funding.

The Washington County Board of Education recently voted to use a $119,883 grant to implement a computer-based reading program, FastForward, in 17 schools. Blum said the school system typically buys computers to accompany the programs or the programs are packaged with some computers.

He said about 100 software programs are used in county schools.

The school system has 1,608 computers that were bought before 1997 and 801 computers that were bought in 1997. He said 813 of the computers were bought in 1998 and 674 computers that were bought in 1999.

He said 600 were bought in 2000; 450 were bought in 2001; 455 were bought in 2002 and 900 were bought between January and October 2003.

He said 342 computers were discarded because they were broken or no longer useable.

The school system uses the computers that don't meet state standards.

According to state standards, 57 percent of the 42 sites connected to the school system's server hook up to the network at a fast enough speed, Blum said.

He said the school system pays $200,000 a year in fees to Verizon so its sites can hook up to the network through a T1 connection, which he said is not a high-speed connection.

Fifty percent of the school system's servers, which Richard Baldasarre, the school system's technology specialist, called "the backbone to support the classroom," are more than two years old.

The combination makes the school system's computers slow to connect to programs, the Internet and the network.

Baldasarre said students lose patience working on computers at school, which may respond slower than their home computers.

"The driving force for computer replacement is instructional programs," said David Mundey, the school system's network manager.

Blum said school officials are looking into purchasing more computer programs, but has no budget to purchase more computers.

He estimated it would cost $1.1 million a year to replace computers every four years, but said the school system has fallen behind that hypothetical schedule.

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