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D27 technology costs may rise

As pervasive as technology is, it’s becoming an increasingly integral component to the learning experience at Northbrook District 27. Details on a proposed technology budget for the upcoming fiscal year were presented to the Board of Education on Thursday, April 7, during a board working session.

Dr. Reggie Ryan, director of technology, provided an overview of the district’s proposed plans. He said the district is committed to bringing in products that are going to be viable throughout the lifespan of its use in schools, in addition to maintaining a level of compatibility with the software and curriculum.

Among some of the initiatives already implemented and will be due for an upgrade or expansion in D27 include but is not limited to interactive whiteboards, Chromebooks and iPads. In looking at the future needs of the schools and the marketplace for technology, Ryan said the district is looking at how it can stay in tune with what’s available, while striving to be cost-effective.

“We’ve talked a little bit about the market place and how unclear it is,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of work in terms of investigation.”

Next school year, the budget for technology at D27 shows new district-wide costs, valued at $367,380, to fund new projects. In total, officials are projecting they’ll have allotted $992,340 to account for these and other related expenses. In the 2015-2016 academic year, the new district-wide costs were valued at $90,220.

“There is a significant increase though in the new district-wide costs and that’s a significant increase over the last year,” Ryan said. “A majority of—easily a majority of that—is constituted by the new phone system we’ll put in this summer.”

At the March 17 board meeting, officials approved a phone system replacement contract award with CDW for the upcoming school year.

In order to stay up to date with new technology, Ryan said the district is choosing to run tests at Hickory Point and Shabonee bringing in samples of competing products that will allow them to decide whether or not these technologies are good investments to make in larger quantities.

D27 owns 85 Smart Boards that are made available as tools teachers can use in their classrooms. At 8 years old, the life of these interactive whiteboards are nearing the phase where they may need to be replaced, Ryan said.

“We are budgeting for six units should we have to replace them, essentially in an emergency,” he said. “We do have that contingency built into the budget if we’re going to replace them next year.”

While school officials keep a tab on their current fleet of whiteboards, they also intend to look at other products that could be considered as potential investments.

Two new products being considered at D27 schools for next year are Smart panel TVs and interactive whiteboard projectors.

“Basically, our plan is for interactive whiteboards rather than commit to something for next year and get it wrong, bring two things in and get some feedback from teachers over the next year and go from there,” Ryan said.

The Board of Education is expected to vote on the proposed budget for technology at their meeting on April 21.

Potential student fee increases

Parents looking to enroll their children in Northbrook District 27 schools could see a student fee increase in the coming school year if proposed changes are approved at the Board of Education’s meeting on April 21.

Activity and materials costs may rise. Parents with children in middle school were assessed $15 for field trips and on-site performances this year, while those with children enrolled in the full-day kindergarten program paid $25 for books and materials. Those costs may rise to $20 for middle school students and $40 for kindergartners, respectively.

Officials said it’s important to note how the technology user fee is assessed at the middle school level. While current sixth-grade students paid $145 and received Chromebooks this year, seventh and eighth-grade students were charged $105. Officials said the technology user fee will remain at $145 at the sixth-grade level, allowing the increase to remain stable as students matriculate through the middle school.

Survey results reveal D27 strengths

Also at that meeting, school officials reviewed the results of surveys performed in February assessing staff and parent satisfaction.

Bill Foster, president of School Perceptions, provided an overview of his research firm’s findings. He said data shows signs of strength will exist when staffing is comprised of professionals who have worked 10 years or more in the district.

At D27, about 60 percent of the staff have worked 10 years or more for the schools.

Foster said one area of weakness indicated in the survey is the school district’s use of the Canvas Tool in creating room for communication, but it’s still an improvement shown when compared to previous surveys.

The parent satisfaction survey showed an increase in participation with 550 choosing to respond to this year compared to 396 in 2014.

Foster said it might appear that a drop in the EL rating from 92 percent to 89 percent is a reason to be concerned but as he explained, it took only two dissatisfied parents to change that value.

In response to how the survey details a rise in social media and electronic usage, Foster said, this shows an attention to larger trends seen in the community.

The current survey holds a 4.5 percent margin for error.

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