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Laptop issue clouds school tech levy campaign

Misconceptions among some voters trouble officials and campaign organizers.

The idea has sprouted like a weed, and Clif McKenzie is working hard to stamp it out.

The upcoming technology levy “is not about providing a laptop to every student,” said McKenzie, who is co-chairing the campaign to get a $8.9 million technology levy passed by Bainbridge voters on May 17.

“It’s unfortunate that this is the myth,” McKenzie told the school board Thursday evening. “That’s the fact that we need to get out. It’s astounding how this idea germinated and then exploded.”

Many people are offended by the prospect of laptops for school children, considering it an extravagance given the funding challenges that schools routinely face – especially since many Bainbridge kids have laptops of their own.

That’s why dispelling the laptop “myth” is so important to the success of the campaign, McKenzie said.

The school board agreed.

Board member Cheryl Dale, only half jokingly, suggested a newspaper headline reading, “School Board Says NO to Laptops!”

Several board members suggested striking the words “laptop” and “notebook” from the district’s mailers and brochures on the levy.

In reality, the technology levy will provide computers in the schools at a ratio of one computer for every four students in the district. Some of the computers will be on desktops in classrooms where there is room for them, but most will move from room to room on a portable cart, so they can be shared among teachers without taking up already limited classroom space.

A yes vote on the levy will pay for computer and instructional equipment, software, technology training for teachers, wireless infrastructure and technology support staff.

The aging computer systems now in the schools are between six and nine years old – ancient considering the major developments in technology in recent years.

The upcoming levy will replace 20 percent of the old equipment with new equipment each year for five years. If passed, the levy will cost the owner of a $400,000 house about $200 per year for four years.

Technology levies are allowed by the state as a mechanism to fund technology programs, since virtually no state and federal money is earmarked for that purpose.

The miniscule amount of the technology that Bainbridge Island currently receives – about $1 per student, per year – is about to be axed under the Bush administration’s current proposed budget.

McKenzie, who is co-chairing the tech levy campaign with Margaret Powers, said it is too bad that they have had to focus on correcting erroneous information about the laptops, when the need for new technology in the schools is so great.

“We want to start talking about how these are essential learning tools in today’s world,” McKenzie said, noting that a whole series of information sessions on the tech levy are scheduled at local schools in coming weeks.

The schedule can be seen on the school district’s website at www.bainbridge.wednet.edu.

The campaign is being financed with $8,000 from the Parent Teacher/Student Organizations at local schools and the Bainbridge Public Schools Trust.

McKenzie and Powers have lined up dozens of volunteers to assist with the campaign, which will provide voters with information via mailers and phone calls, especially as the election gets close.

“We have to make sure people vote,” McKenzie told the board. “That would be the biggest sin of all, if they don’t get out and vote.”

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