TESD Facilities Committee Meeting – Presentation of $3 Million Plan to Upgrade IT Network

Ray Clarke attended the school district’s Facilities Committee meeting and graciously sent me notes. Although I have been married to a computer marketing guru for 30 years, I certainly don’t claim to have any understanding of the IT world.  However, it is almost certain that when organizations make significant IT changes/upgrades — they are nearly out of date by the time they are installed.  Because computer technology is constantly changing and advancing in today’s world, it can be difficult (and costly) to stay current.  Technology experts — we could use your thoughts on the school district’s IT network upgrade plans.

Ray Clarke’s TESD Facilities Committee Meeting Notes . . .

Friday’s TESD Facilities Committee meeting was most notable for a presentation of a $3 million plan to upgrade the IT network.  Happily, the Committee gave approval for only initial consultant planning work.  Hopefully more of the community can be present for that report to learn what exactly is to be done, when, and what the practical user benefits will be.

The basic argument went as follows:  “Text books and teaching materials are becoming more available electronically.  Therefore we need a) higher speeds in the district network, and b) wireless network availability throughout the high school (already in place?), the middle schools and eventually the elementary schools.”  The consultant waved his iPad, and stated it was useless without a network.  But, is the converse also true? 

Are we therefore setting the District up for an ongoing cascade of expenditure?  The Committee was adamantly against the provision of mobile devices to students.  Will they therefore be able to bring their own?  Will our classrooms come to resemble the Ivy League class my wife and I sat in on, where 90% of the students were on Facebook, playing video games, IM’ing their buddies a few rows down, etc.?

The $3 million will expand the network speed from 1 to 10 gigabtyes per second.  That’s nice.  Is the network slow now?  What’s the current capacity?  What’s the correlation between capacity and response time perceived by the user?  How much capacity does a “multi-media-rich, interactive web-based” class need?  How many such classes could the current network support?  What would happen if every class had one of those presentations at the same time?  (And if they did, what would that say about our ability to have our students actually engage in stimulating discussion with the teacher and their peers, and actually learn to THINK?)

We’ll know the temperature and humidity in the switch closets.  Also nice to know, but are we having sauna/steam room problems now?  Further, it would be nice to have every phone in the school have immediate emergency power before the generators kick in, but what problems are created by the current situation?

I trust that there are answers to these and other questions.  Dr Motel and the Committee were absolutely right in not giving carte blanche to this proposal and in asking for a real plan.  Perhaps the bottom line question should be: How will our students benefit? 

The 10 year capital plan – without solutions for district storage and maintenance facilities and with no provision for ongoing IT needs – shows the $15 million from last year’s bond being used up during 2014/15.  The next tranche of bond funds at the same interest rate would be available just in time (I think (?)).  Otherwise that $9 million designated for capital in the General Fund (if indeed it’s still there) would be needed. 

Not much leeway, it seems to me.

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  1. John
    WHile I have no idea who the district is using for their advice, it would be helpful if people with your skills attended the meeting where they discuss it. WHen I was on the board, they had a Technology committee with outside participants from the community. Maybe they still do? They only know what they know — they have no idea what they do not know. This is an opportunity for you to weigh in and contribute. Not second guess — contribute. That’s about community mattering !

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    Mr. Roboto Reply:

    I agree. John Petersen does seem to know a lot about computers, and I think he even ran a technology consulting company. Hopefully, he will take your hint Andrea and use his powers for good, rather than gripe about Warren Kampf.

    What about it Mr. Petersen? Why not roll up your sleeves and lend a hand to our School Board?

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    Bill L. Reply:

    Way to be proactive and make it about yourself. Good job, John….. You have an opportunity to contribute in a positive manner…and there ya go.. Thank you for your support of the community, John.

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  2. They have the “solution ” for storage & maintenance.. its constructing 1 or 2 buildings on Old Lancaster RD……..At the end of the Facilities meeting it was announced that the “storage needs” would be discussed in Jan or Feb.. looks like a summer 2012 project. The $400,000 for land acquisition on the Capital Plan is for the remaining property .

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    Ray Clarke Reply:

    Thanks for the clarification. I did see the $400,000. I think it’s the construction costs that have yet to be included in the capital plan.

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  3. As a component of the school district’s plan to upgrade the IT network, it would be beneficial to set-up a new technology focused committee. There are many technology experts in our community — I hope that the School Board would take advantage and encourage these residents to get involved. The help from John Petersen on this project would be invaluable and I hope school board members would reach out to him and others. Technology and implementation can be slippery slope – so why not play to our community’s strengths and involve resident experts.

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    Bill L. Reply:

    Pattye, why should “John and others” wait for the school board to come to them? That’s the problem more and more these days. People waiting to be asked. People waiting to have their egos stroked. If a community member sees a need and he has an ability to help meet that need, then he should have the personal obligation to help it out. They way “John and others” get involved is by attending meetings, getting familiar with the situation and the players involved, and then working to help them or provide suggestions. And not in John’s often bitter, self-righteous, or “I told you so” manner. Too much stinkin apathy with people waiting to be asked because they want their egos stroked or are in reality, too lazy and know they will never be actually asked so they’d rather just moan and groan about it.

    Sorry to rant, Pattye. That’s just one of my pet peeves.

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Bill —

    If you asked my husband, he might tell you that I’m too involved with the community :) Seriously though, you are right that more people in the community should get involved. Sitting on the sidelines is not the answer, but people get involved for various reasons. In the organizations that I am involved with — if we have a specific need, we look for a volunteer to fill that need. Play to your strengths — we can’t all be good at everything. So if you or your organization has a need — than you reach out. If the school board doesn’t have the skillset within their own ranks for this possible IT network upgrade or the $$ for very expensive consultants, I think the answer and help may be IT experts in the community.

    Sometimes I have found that the best volunteers are the one who ‘were asked’ to help. Here’s hoping that you are one of those involved community members.

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  4. The proper process is to contact the School Board directly to volunteer your services. The Board has previously worked with financial experts, led by Tom Colman, who came in to evaluate district operations. And they’ve had volunteers help with IT in the past.

    When volunteering, be specific about your level of commitment. E.g. Tom Colman’s committee gave many hours over many months to evaluate the district’s budget. They didn’t just come in and make a few comments without studying the issues in-depth. If you want to volunteer, you won’t be turned away.

    But remember that it’s not the board’s obligation to go out and ask IT experts to volunteer in the schools. There are existing volunteer committees, and many people from the community are already involved. And the Board meetings are all open to the public– which gives people like John and other IT experts the chance to discuss technology at facilities and to get involved. Please volunteer if you can.

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  5. Talk about running without the baton?
    I simply stated that the TESD at one time had a TECHNOLOGY committee — it came out of the initial strategic planning process. That committee worked with the district on a continuing basis to provide expertise and advice as requested. Robin McConnell is the director of the district Technology initiative. I have no idea if they still have an outside group….and I also have no idea of the board reads this blog. I simply suggested that John’s background might be helpful. There is no way the district is going to call a citizen to ask for advice. It’s about volunteers. If someone on the board knows John, perhaps that is the right way to approach it. Having said that, John certainly is not the lone wolf in TESD with this kind of background, and I don’t know the board’s position on free advice any more. So I don’t think we need to worry about John’s specific situation. I was suggesting that the board might be interested in hearing from citizens with background. Pete Motel, head of facilities, is a dermatologist. Debbie B certainly has a technology background — so maybe she is a contact to consider.

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  6. One benefit of community committees is that they provide political cover. I’m not sure that is needed here. Our highly compensated administrators should be expected to have, or retain, the necessary expertise. It’s important that accountability and responsibility is clear. (It might be helpful for all to have a recap of our long-time consultant’s qualifications).

    However, the Board should have the acumen to ask the right questions, and I think that the community can definitely help with that. No committees necessary. IT expertise of course helpful; also business experience; also common sense! It’s very easy to send thoughts via the web site. And of course, showing up for the Committee meetings is very important – so much gets buried in the Board “Consent Agenda”.

    I understand that the full review of this project will occur in the February Facilities Committee meeting. Hopefully we’ll get a good understanding of the business case and the options, in what seems to be a highly favorable environment for network purchases.

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  7. Could not agree more with Ray. The highly paid administrators should start to earn their pay. Not only in IT but everywhere. All they seem to do is hire outsiders – frustrating.
    I also wonder if Corbet will have the backbone to comment and address the salary levels of school superintendents.

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