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Federal Way school district considers upgrading computers

"Upgrading or replacing old computers nearing the end of their life cycles can be an uphill battle. But the Federal Way school district is attempting to replace or bring about 2,600 computers up to speed as soon as it can.We're running into a six to nine year range with these computers just by regular wear and tear, said Kenneth Cole, the district's manager of information technology services.Many of the older computers won't run today's powerful software programs the district uses such as Standardized Test for the Assessment of Reading, known as STAR. Another program, Steck-Vaughn, supports reading instruction and testing in the classrooms and has trouble working on older computers.It's getting harder and harder, Cole said. Some won't run the software. It's no longer economical.With recent news of technology grants available to schools from corporate powerhouses such as Microsoft and Intel, the technology department is hoping for its share of the money. But it's not an easy road ahead to accomplish technology goals, Cole admits. We're not one of those things you'd expect to get full funding for, he said. We only move as money is available... Until it is you don't move.The technology department receives most of its funding from the district's general operating fund, which is made up of state funding and local levy support. The IT department must also compete with other department and program funding within the district, which could make hardware upgrades or new computers hard to come by.The district is juggling a lot of priorities and technology can be pricey, Cole said. They have to find what's the best value for the dollar.The good news, however, lies in the recent decrease in computer prices. With the backing of a state bid, Cole estimates new computers will cost the district about $1,200 each. The systems will come with complete software packages and a deep warranty, of at least five years, Cole said.The forecast can be tough sometimes, he said. But the price trend has been in our favor.Technology is used in a number of areas in the schools. According to the IT department, some schools use Internet-based websites to provide student attendance and performance information for parents. Libraries also use computers as electronic card catalogs. Other technology services include controlling building temperature in schools, filtering Internet access by staff and students and monitoring fuel usage by district buses.Computer replacement and other technology upgrades such as increasing computer connection points in classrooms and implementing better learning programs get a big nod from Illahee Junior High School Principal Randy Kaczor.It's a perishable product, he said. And it's a huge expenditure you've got to replace. But they're an essential tool.Kaczor said his eighth and ninth-graders extensively use the school computers for class research papers.Kids are getting used to them and they have them in the home too, he said. If you took them away it would be like taking away a pencil and paper 30 or 40 years ago.While Cole doesn't see technology disappearing in the classrooms, he and his IT department are trying to generate ideas and gain input from residents served by the district about technology goals.It's an ongoing plan, he said. There's no start or stop to it. "

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