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District’s $38M technology bond issue would add more iPads, teaching tools to classrooms

Angela Bagby’s students in the autism classroom at Marshall Elementary School can’t verbalize the answers to a spelling test or hold a pencil for more than a few minutes at a time because of sensory issues. But they can sure operate an iPad.

The use of tablet computers is constantly expanding the boundaries and communication abilities of these dozen mostly nonverbal children with profound behavioral issues. But without grants, Bagby wouldn’t have six iPads in her classroom.

“It’s like their brains are wired for the technology more than they are for social interactions,” said Bagby, a veteran special education teacher. “I go with the philosophy that whatever I’m doing is getting in there. The more access they have to try different ways to communicate or have different ways to understand information, the better. My kids have come farther than they had in probably two years.”

(Next page: What the bond issue includes)Tulsa Public Schools leaders are asking voters to approve a $38 million “Smart and Secure Schools” bond issue so the school district can catch up to its neighboring districts in instructional technology. Their aim is to ensure all educators have access to the same set of technology tools, regardless of grant funding and site budgets.

The proposed “standard classroom” technology suite would include a desktop computer, interactive whiteboard with speakers, iPad, document camera, Internet Protocol TV and wireless internet access.

Approval of the bond would also get the district to a ratio of 3-to-1 students to computer devices within a couple of years, compared to current rates, which are as high as 12-to-1 in some schools.

Business and community leaders joined school district officials Tuesday morning in launching the official advertising campaign for the bond issue, which will go to Tulsa voters May 14.

A second round of public forums about the proposal have been scheduled over the two weeks leading up to the bond election.

School leaders like Marshall Principal Kayla Robinson say catching up with instructional technology can’t happen soon enough for educators of today’s tech-savvy kids.

Only 10 percent of all TPS bond packages since 1996 have been dedicated to technology, so principals have had limited resources with which to purchase technology.

One tool purchased with those funds at Marshall is so popular that it frequently makes the rounds of different teachers’ classrooms.

It’s called “Smart Response,” an auxiliary tool that can be connected to the interactive white boards that many teachers – but not all – have in their classrooms. The student response system allows teachers to quiz students and get instant feedback about their comprehension.

“It’s not very expensive, by comparison, but we would love to have one for every classroom,” Robinson said. “It provides a pie graph that shows the teacher overall class results. So if results are 50-50, obviously the teacher needs to do some reteaching. The teacher also gets results for every student, so they can pinpoint who needs what help.”

Robinson said one system costs about $1,500.

Millage rates have remained level through all five voter-approved TPS bond packages since the mid-1990s, but the Smart and Secure Bond would increase costs slightly for property owners.

Officials estimate that the owners of a house valued at $100,000 would see their tax levy increase by $3.38 per month, or $40.50 per year, beginning in the fall of 2014.

Copyright 2013 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.). Visit Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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