School tech levy set for May 17

The four-year, $8.9 million levy would pay for computers, training.

It’s official: An $8.9 million technology levy for Bainbridge public schools will be on the May 17 ballot.

If approved, the technology levy will replace aging computer systems and technology district-wide, providing use of one laptop computer, on average, for every four children in the district.

Students are currently using computers between six and eight years old, ancient considering advances in the technology field.

“There’s a lot to be excited about,” Bainbridge schools Superintendent Ken Crawford said. “Where we’ll be in four years will be just remarkable.”

The total amount of the levy is $1 million more than originally planned, due to higher estimated costs for staff training and the installation of some equipment, detailed in a consultant’s report to the board Thursday evening.

Board members agreed that buying a lot of new technology equipment for teachers to use in the classroom made little sense, unless staff was fully supported with consistent, ongoing training in how to use it.

“We’ve got to make sure we have the money to execute it, to get the most bang out of it,” board member Dave Pollock said.

The levy would cost the owner of a $400,000 Bainbridge house about $220 per year over the four-year life of the measure.

The equipment would be installed over a five-year period, providing laptops, interactive whiteboards, ceiling-mounted projectors and document cameras for teachers.

Science classrooms would be equipped with a computer for every student, while rolling carts of wireless laptops would be supplied to other classrooms on an as-needed basis, to maximize space in the classrooms and access to students.

Members of Bainbridge Resource Group, a taxpayer watchdog organization that has at times been critical of the board and questioned its spending priorities, offered support for the measure.

“Do it! Do it!” BRG founder Bob Fortner told the board.

When BRG member and former school board member Doug Johnson said he was supporting the measure, current board president Susan Sivitz joked that she wanted his endorsement on their campaign literature.

The tech levy campaign is being run by island parents Clif McKenzie and Margaret Powers, longtime supporters of schools who have worked together on previous campaigns.

“The community will support this,” McKenzie said. “Our job is just to make sure the message is clear, so that people know exactly what they are supporting.”

McKenzie has recommended boosting turnout for the tech levy by also placing a proposal on the ballot to fund $1 million synthetic turf fields at the high school stadium.

That proposal would cost the average island household $25 per year and would essentially quadruple the amount of field space at the high school, since it could be used in all weather.

Since the sports field question was not on the agenda, the board tabled the discussion until their next meeting.

In the meantime, McKenzie said he and Powers are working to create fliers and to plan town meetings to “get out the vote.”

Their first task, McKenzie said, is to dispel the idea that every kid on the island is getting a laptop from the district.

“It’s just not true, and we don’t want to run this whole campaign explaining what the tech levy is not,” he said.

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