Schools hope for brighter tech future


Staff writer

For the first time, Federal Way school district officials have introduced a technology levy to help fund technological maintenance. And next Tuesday, the School Board will vote on whether to include the levy on the February ballot next year.

In the past, technology funding came from the district’s general budget. But the recent budget shortfall has forced the district to find an alternative source for tech maintenance funding.

Teri Hickel, president of Citizens for Federal Way Schools, told the School Board at a recent meeting, “Technology is no longer a perk. It’s a necessity.”

Indeed, state and federal regulations include technological competence as a necessary component of basic education. The federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) defines technology as a tool to enhance education and improve academic achievement.

In addition, Washington’s technology plan reads, “Education today requires the knowledge and skills to utilize technology with equitable and universal access to it.”

To meet these regulations, as well as fulfill district goals, Federal Way Public Schools technology experts — with help from various tech leaders from Microsoft, the city of Federal Way and Lakehaven Utility District, among others — have drafted a district technology plan. The plan ( strives to:

• Ensure technological literacy in all students by at least eighth grade.

• Establish technological skills standards for students and staff.

• Prepare students for high tech workplaces of the 21st century.

The tech levy was created to support the technology plan. Levy revenue would go toward updating or replacing obsolete computers and servers, funding media presentation devices, funding educational software, and improving computer performance.

Sally McLean, the district’s chief financial officer, said the average lifespan of a computer is five years. While the tech plan’s total anticipated revenue over the six-year lifespan of the levy is approximately $10.8 million, 63 percent would be set aside for regular computer, server and computer system upgrades.

And while the levy’s estimated yearly revenue is $1.8 million dollars, the estimated yearly total for such upgrades and maintenances is $1,007,500.

McLean said the levy would ask for support from voters for six years — from 2004 to 2010 –– via property taxes within the district’s boundaries.

The tech plan recommends replacing the 20 percent of student computers and staff computers each year. It also suggests annually replacing the lowest 33 percent of server computers, and semi-annually replacing one of two high-powered Hewlett-Packard servers.

McLean said recent refinancing of school bonds makes it possible to raise the tech levy money without raising property tax rates.

Sandy Nelson, director of technology, recently told the School Board the levy is necessary to maintain current levels of technology.

“We are just a technologically dependent society,” Nelson said.

Nelson also said that without the tech levy, educational quality will suffer. Students won’t be able to access computers for homework or research, and teacahers would have limited access to various teaching methodologies and philosophies, would be limited to pen and pencil manual testing, would have to post student records by hand, and would have limited sources for research information, officials said.

While most board members showed unreserved support for the tech plan and the tech levy, member Earl VanDorien Jr. wondered if voters would resent the idea of supporting school technology if they can’t even afford their own computers.

He added that school buildings which house technology equipment are not open after school hours for students. “I’d like to see a plan for making sure those buildings and rooms are available,” he said.

An educational programs and operations levy –– recently renamed from maintenance and operations levy to communicate its purpose more clearly, officials said — is slated to appear on the same February ballot if approved by the board. The EP&0 levy has a four-year lifespan.

McLean said she anticipates the levy raising a maximum of $29 million for the 2004-05 school year, $30 million for 2005-06, $31 million for 2006-07, and $32 million dollars for 2007-08.

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