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Bainbridge school district begins talk about replacement levy for technology

Bainbridge Island school officials have settled on four options for a technology levy that may go before voters next year.

The school district’s current $5.2 million levy, passed by voters in 2010, expires in 2014. Options now under consideration range from a $4.5 million levy, that would pull in $1.5 million a year, to a $6.6 million levy, which would mean annual revenues of $2.2 million.

At their meeting last week, school board members indicated they weren’t interested in letting the tech levy expire without a replacement. Even so, discussions are still in the early phases as officials review how much money should be devoted to five focus areas for levy funding, from learning and teaching to communications, infrastructure and network systems.

Although the state Legislature has pledged an additional $1 billion for education in the next biennium budget, Bainbridge officials don’t expect to see a windfall that can be used to fund the district’s ongoing technology needs. District Superintendent Faith Chapel noted it was unrealistic to think any additional funding would cover the existing gap between what the state gives the district to pay for basic education in Bainbridge schools and what it actually costs.

“There’s still going to be a tremendous need for local support for technology,” Chapel said.

Under the four options that include a replacement levy, the $4.5 million scenario would maintain the current approach of having the equivalent of two to three computer devices per classroom, or a student-to-device ratio of 4:1 across the school district. Teaching staff computers would be replaced on the current five-year schedule, and computers would also be replaced for district and school support staff. The district’s  telephone and voicemail system that was purchased in 2006 would also be replaced in 2014-15, and current levels of tech training for support staff and teachers would continue.

Other scenarios — a $5.9 million levy, a $6.1 million levy and a $6.6 million levy — would build on the first levy option by increasing the student-to-device ratio and putting more computers in classrooms. Those scenarios could also create the possibility for students to “check out” computing devices.

Some school board members said they supported a tech levy that would go beyond the basic option that would maintain the status quo by using technology purchased by the 2005 and 2009 bond measures.

Officials also noted the tech levies that have been approved in recent years in other Puget Sound-area school districts. Mercer Island passed a six-year, $24 million levy in 2010. Also that year, the Snoqualmie Valley School District passed a $9.9 million tech levy, Issaquah voters approved a $32.9 million levy, Bellevue approved a $74 million levy, and the Lake Washington School District passed an $83 million levy.

Tech levy funding per student in those five school districts ranges from $397 (Snoqualmie Valley) to $954 (Mercer Island).

“Speaking for myself ... I favor being fairly aggressive,” said Board President Mike Spence.

“The ones we compete against are miles ahead of us,” Spence said.

Mercer Island, noted Chapel, has plans to put iPads in the hands of students from kindergarten through high school.

Board Member Tim Kincaid said he supported the option for a $5.9 million tech levy — which would result in revenues of $1.9 million each year — but also said officials need to be asking hard questions about what will be purchased and where those devices will go.

The board president agreed.

“We have to be very judicious in spending this money,” Spence said.

The funding estimates for the levy options are expected to change given the Legislature’s recent work on funding K-12 education measures in the state budget. More accurate estimates on the district’s technology needs and priorities will be prepared for the July 25 school board meeting.

At that meeting, board members will get revised technology options and also options for measuring success of technology levy projects.

Bainbridge passed its first tech levy in 2006. Before then, roughly 90 percent of computers in district classrooms were donated by PTOs or purchased with grant funding from the Bainbridge Education Support Team or the Gates Foundation. There were no student computers in sixth- through eighth-grade classrooms, and only one out of 10 high school science classrooms had computers. Approximately 95 percent of classrooms still used overhead projectors and 85 percent of classrooms were equipped with televisions and VCRs.

In the past school year, the current tech levy has paid for new computers at Woodward Middle School, including desktop models in the lab and library. The staff also decided to replace old computers used by students with 19 desktop computers and 41 laptops. New Smart boards were also installed at Bainbridge High and Eagle Harbor High.

The existing levy has also paid for iPads, and staff at Bainbridge High and Woodward are now exploring the use of Chromebooks — personal computers that are designed to be used while connected to the Internet and online applications — as a pilot project in the school district.

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