District Sees Laptops In Every Student’S Future

New fiber optic cables put high-speed Internet in middle and high school classrooms

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An Oct. 6 article entitled, “District sees laptops in every student’s future” incorrectly stated that the federal program which helps Payson Unified School District pay for new technology will disappear in three years. The program, called E-Rate, is not currently scheduled to expire.

The future at Payson Unified School District could include laptops for every student, and paperless textbooks accessed via the Web.

Recently the district overcame a major impediment to that future when the high school and middle school began accessing the Internet with new fiber optic cables, increasing data speeds by 10 times, said Joni de Szendeffy, the district’s technology and data coordinator.

Elementary schools will soon switch from using a T1 line to access the high school’s fiber cable to a microwave signal that will bounce off a town water tower before transmitting signals to the high school, which hosts the fiber cable. The microwave signal will also increase speeds for elementary schools tenfold.

During the past three years, the district has purchased 237 new desktop computers and 32 laptops, upgrading memory and synchronizing operating systems and brands for easier maintenance. The district’s entire network consists of 900 computers.

However, a shortage of bandwidth, which is the amount of data a computer connection can handle, checked progress.

State-of-the-art upgrades like the Internet-based security cameras and an energy conservation system the district installed as part of the bond project absorb huge amounts of bandwidth, and some parts of the system had to be turned off until the new system went online.

A federal program called E-Rate helps schools afford this new technology. Last year, the district paid $30,000 of the $91,000 it invested in communications. This year, Payson will pay $65,000 out of a $250,000 bill.

E-Rate will disappear in three years. Superintendent Casey O’Brien said the district will have to work the expense into its budget. However, officials say the technology is necessary to keep pace with changes in education.

“Textbooks are going to be a thing thing of the past in five years,” O’Brien predicted. Teachers are now starting to write their own curriculum, and the open-source material will replace textbooks. Payson alone spends $200,000 a year on new textbooks.

Eventually, the district could subsidize laptops for students so they can access online learning materials and write papers in word processors.

The state may still cut more funds from education, and so O’Brien said the progress has slowed but not stopped. “It’s important, I think, that we keep moving forward,” he said.

Technology coordinator de Szendeffy said, “Even if it’s baby steps, even if it’s one computer.” This year, the district purchased 15 computers compared to 129 desktops last year.

Purchasing refurbished desktops, which cost $150 and come with a three-year warranty, makes the ultimate goal of replacing the older computers more attainable. Otherwise, new computers could cost up to $1,000 each.

The refurbished computers are often models that Hewlett-Packard has just retired.

Also, schools now pool their technology funds, contributing proportionately to a $50,000 districtwide budget, instead of buying individually.

Larger entities enjoy more purchasing power, but the singular budget also allows the district to streamline purchases, avoiding the technological hodgepodge that existed before.

The focus will help the district move forward, officials say.

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