Columbus, Ohio Schools Eye Levy for Major Tech Purchase

Incorporating digital learning into the curriculum in all grades and courses was one goal of Columbus, Ohio’s education commission, and they have proposed a plan to lease almost 30,000 computers, mostly laptops and tablets, to Columbus City Schools. The whole plan’s operation would cost $8.74 million a year, but it depends on a $9.01 million levy yet to be approved by voters.

Every middle and high school student in Columbus City Schools would get a portable computer that might become a take-home device to assist their learning if voters approve the levy on the November 5th ballot. $6.8 million per year in property taxes dedicated to the effort would be stretched thin in the later years of the five-year program, and might eventually require officials to tap the school district’s general fund to cover some of the costs.

According to the Columbus Dispatch’s Bill Bush, the plan would allow the district to purchase the 30,000 devices for $1 each at the end of the lease in 2018.

The computers would be phased in through 2015, and once fully implemented, the lease would cost $6.6 million a year.

According to Tom Czajkowski, the chief information officer of Columbus City Schools, the district would have to find more funding, including one-time capital money to install Wi-Fi and to fix a computer glitch, both of which would come out of a $1.01 million bond issue that is also part of the levy.

Costing $8.74 million a year, the plan calls for:

  1. Leasing more than 29,700 desktop computers, laptops or tablets. More than 23,000 would be for giving one to each middle- and high-school student. Elementary classes would be provided one device for every four students.
  2. Installing Wi-Fi networks in every district building. The first wave could be added by this spring, paid for by a $2.5 million bond issue and $530,000 a year of operating cash.
  3. Hiring 10 new information-technology specialists, adding to the district’s current staff of 13, to support the devices and Wi-Fi. The cost: $980,000 a year.
  4. Training staff to use the new equipment. Cost: up to $650,000 per year.
  5. Fixing a glitch in a system installed under a previous superintendent and technology chief that causes teachers and students to wait a long time while computers boot up for use. Cost: a one-time $1.6 million in bond money.

With technology rollout problems facing the district in the past, Czajkowski, a vice president of information technology for Scotts Miracle-Gro until he joined the district this year, is confident that the district will achieve success. He said that while the effort is large, it isn’t unique, as scores of districts across the country have made similar upgrades.

“And I’m talking about big districts: New York, Chicago and Miami down in Florida,” he said. “We’ve already learned a lot by talking to those districts.”

“It’s going to be basically consumer technology, and we’re going to make use of applications out on the Web. A lot of the (previous) problems were related to trying to do too much inside the districts,” he continued.