Despite a $40.5 million budget cut, Florida’s Broward County School District is plunging forward with an ambitious technology plan that will overhaul computers and upgrade software in every classroom.
School districts in as many as 22 states are facing similar budget cuts because of the slumping economy and repercussions from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and consequently many are scratching new technology projects.
However, Broward County school officials confirmed they will embark on a new five-year technology plan.
“We are going to go forward as much as we can,” said Superintendent Frank Till. “The plan over the next five years is to refresh all the technology in schools and expand it.”
The $136 million technology plan proposed by the school board focuses on all aspects of the district’s current technology, including increasing bandwidth, replacing old eMail and telephone systems, and licensing more software for classrooms.
The district just finished spending $247 million on a four-year technology plan that resulted in a telephone and about four computers in every classroom and a laptop for each teacher.
The new technology plan would upgrade the district’s network to a fiber-optic one capable of voice, video, and data; combine and standardize eMail for all 260,000 students and 27,000 employees; provide wireless internet access in portable classrooms; and create an in-house support system to manage the district’s technology investments.
“At times of shrinking resources, we’re still trying to find a way to increase student achievement,” Till said.
To help pay for the projects, the district hopes to secure eRate discounts and federal funding it never applied for in the past. Officials are also looking for ways to make extra revenue, such as selling unneeded air time on its two television stations.
Till said the district also could reduce some operating costs by consolidating its many internet and telephone service providers into one. In addition, Till hopes some technology vendors’ prices will be cheaper because of the lagging economy.
The central administration office will be the district’s last priority, Till said. The district will put some technology projects on hold, like converting its current financial system software and upgrading software and hardware at the central administration office.
“We won’t refresh our office computers as rapidly if we stay in this budget crisis,” Till said. “We’re still going to find ways to wire portable classrooms, and we’re going to find ways to refresh classroom computers.”
The technology plan might take longer to implementsix years instead of fivedepending on how the economy performs, Till said.
The district is more prepared to handle the budget cuts than other Florida districts because Broward County overbudgeted in the last two years, Till said. For example, the district planned to spend more on gas this year than it actually did, because prices have dropped considerably.
“Over the last two years we’ve been tightening our belts,” Till said. “Our plan so far has worked out. We haven’t had to lay anyone off.”