21 Aug 2014
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School Technology Upgrades May Cost More than $1 Million

Technology chief tells Superintendent and School Committee that systems and equipment are in 'very poor shape.'

School Technology Upgrades May Cost More than $1 Million

The computers and servers are outdated. The backup systems are virtually non-existent. The network infrastructure is past its lifespan. And the schools lack proper networking systems.

And to make matters worse for the technology department at the Marblehead Schools, the staff that has kept the computers limping along is understaffed, overwhelmed and overloaded.

This was the message Technology Supervisor Kenneth Lord delivered to Superintendent Gary Maass and the School Committee recently.

The cost to repair the system: $1.2 million to $1.4 million, Lord said.

"The Marblehead Public Schools technology systems are in very poor shape," Lord wrote as the first line in his 28-page report, plus appendices.

Level funding will address only a small fraction of the needs. "Modest increases would help address the most critical areas, but leave important areas of need unaddressed. Additional operations funding is needed as well as fundraising and grant opportunities," Lord wrote.

The top priorities are replacing desktop and laptop computers, replacing server infrastructure, installing appropriate wireless networking and increasing the staff in the Technology Department, he wrote.

First Steps

The first step would be to buy three and four-year-old refurbished computers to replace the 700 computers currently in use that are eight to 10 years old, the report said. More than 60 percent of the computers were bought before 2006. Almost a quarter of all computers were bought in 2004, and 28 percent in 2002.

The old computers are rarely used, the report said, "leaving students and staff without proper technology."

Once the old computers are replaced, the district can return to the practice of buying new computers in normal quantities, Lord wrote.

The servers at the high school, Mary Ally, Veterans and for FirstClass, which provide essential services for the district, are past their expected lifespan.

"If any of these servers were to fail, system operations would be crippled," the report warned.

The district funded a new wireless network at Veterans this year. But the rest of the district uses a "mixture of home grown wireless, outdated systems or simply no wireless access at all," the report said.

Frustrated Staff Repairing Own Computers

The staff is so frustrated with the lack of wireless access that some have installed their own personal network wireless equipment. This has increased the burden of the technology department and in some cases disrupted the network access for other users.

Teachers have taken the issue into their own hands, he said. "Teachers often try to repair things on their own and purchase their own personal equipment to use or simply do their work at home," he wrote. 

Lord estimated that the technology budget would have to be increased by $700,000 to $850,000 per year to meet the full needs of the department. He said the district needed to pursue a combination of increased operational budget, fundraising, grants and setting priorities if it was to have first-rate technology.

If funding is kept at the same level for FY2014, the department could make some strides toward improving the broken system. It could replace about half of the older computers with refurbished ones and install a majority of the servers, using held-over funds from this year. Only about half of the needed technicians could be hired with no new money, but some additional help could come from summer interns, he said.

With an additional $100,000, most of the old computers could be replaced with refurbished computers, and a base wireless network could be installed for the high school or the Village School.

More funding, probably from outside sources, would be needed to hire the other needed technicians, install additional wireless networks, replace the aging network infrastructure, buy new printers and projection equipment and expand the number of computers, the report said.


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