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School board trims computer spending plan

The Evanston/Skokie District 65 School Board voted Monday to provide more computer-based presentation equipment for teachers, but not increase the number of machines available to students next year.

The district now has enough computers to provide one for every 3.8 children. The district’s Technology Study Committee had recommended improving that ratio to one computer for every 2.8 children.

The study committee proposal would have cost $3.5 million next year. The cutback reduces that spending to $2.6 million.

Board member Katie Bailey proposed the reduction, saying she just doesn’t feel comfortable spending that much money, especially since the district would have to spend additional funds in future years to replace computer equipment as it wears out.

Board member Andrew Pigozzi challenged the reduction. "I don’t think this is the place to cut back," Pigozzi said, suggesting that the district might reduce proposed capital spending on air conditioning school auditoriums instead.

But ultimately the reduced spending level was adopted unanimously by the board.

The approved spending plan also provides for replacement of classroom computers for which leases are running out and provides for upgrading the district’s network infrastructure. 

The technology equipment purchases over the next several years are planned to be paid for through issuance of a new round of debt service extension base bonds, which do not require voter approval. That funding is also used to pay for life safety, air quality and other building improvement projects in the schools.

Finance Director Mary Brown said the district rapidly pays off those bonds, so the new spending will not create a long-term increase in the burden on taxpayers.

The district is limited to making payments of $4.8 million annually on the DSEB bonds and could issue up to $100 million worth of them.

It issued $10 million of those bonds in 2006-07. The board Monday approved issuing another $10 million this year. And the district projects two additional $10 million bond issues, in 2009 and 2012.

The district currently also retires $5.2 million each year of bond debt approved by voters in a referendum.

Brown said that debt will be paid off with the 2010 tax levy, cutting the debt portion of taxpayers’ District 65 school tax burden roughly in half.

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