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Morgan computer plan in good shape, but needs funds, tech director says

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

The will is there, but the funds aren't available for the kind of technology program Morgan County school officials would like to have.

New Technology Director David Haws spent his first six months analyzing the school system's technology status. In his report to the school board, he said Morgan County is probably in the middle of the pack when comparing its technology to that in other state school systems.

With about 2,700 computers, the system has about one for every three students. That is a good ratio, Haws said, but many of those computers are older than 3 years.

Haws said each of the county's 17 schools has done well in obtaining its own computers through corporate partnerships, contributions from Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, and school and PTA fundraisers. But, if the system wants to keep or improve its technology, more cash is a must, he said.

"Funding is the only reason we're not where we would like to be," Haws said. "I think the desire is there."

Haws said the problem is that the state doesn't spend enough on school technology. Teachers receive technology stipends and often combine them to help a school meet a technology need, but he said that falls far short of meeting all needs.

"The state needs to do a better job of funding technology if it wants to get serious about using technology in an instructional setting instead of it just being an add-on to instruction," Haws said.

Superintendent Bob Balch said state officials are discussing an increase in technology funding, to be considered during the state Legislature's regular session beginning in March.

"Overall, I think we're doing as well as we can right now, but we could use some help," Balch said. "I think a lot of other school systems are as strapped financially for technology as we are."

Haws estimated the school system needs between $800,000 and $1 million annually to keep its hardware and software up to date. He said the $100-per-student figure the Legislature is discussing might be the solution.

Falkville High Principal Sue Wood said her school scraped together enough teacher stipends and a Redstone contribution to fill its needs. She said she is trying to keep the school's computers under 3-years-old. She is, however, pleased with the school's technology status.

Like its computers, Haws said, the school system's technology infrastructure is a mixed bag. The wide area network is excellent in the newer schools, but it needs updating in others. The system does have the anti-virus and blocking software it needs, he said.

If the state were to supply more technology money for software and hardware, that would free up local funds for infrastructure upgrades.

He is also working on getting more federal E-rate grant money, while infrastructure upgrades could also be included in the system's capital project schedule. If the state Legislature approved a bond issue for school capital projects this spring, a portion of this money could go toward infrastructure.

"I don't think we can use capital project money for computers and software," Haws said.

Wood said one technology wish item would be add wireless Internet access to the schools. She said this would allow the schools to buy laptops that teachers could move from classroom to classroom.

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