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North Putnam board continues to spend within its budget

Saturday, November 17, 2012

ROACHDALE -- Although the North Putnam School Board was reluctant to cut any big checks at its monthly meeting Thursday, the members agreed to spend money to improve the schools technology.

A lengthy discussion about phase one of the technology plan eventually led to unanimous approval.

Phase 1 will provide all of the school buildings with power over Ethernet (POE) switches.

Ethernet switches are used to connect multiple devices onto the same network.

In March 2011 the school purchased Ethernet switches that require an electrical outlet to operate. POE switches are more self-sufficient and can be installed anywhere, which helps spread technology throughout the building.

At the time, board members John Hays and Ollie Haste objected to the quality of the equipment but the measure still passed by a vote of 4-2.

The school hired Five Star to handle its technology a few months later, and the switches have proved to be inadequate for future needs.

"Frankly, there was a purchase made a long time ago and you shouldn't have bought the stuff," North Putnam Superintendent Dan Noel said. "I'm not going to go out and spend the money on technology just because we have the money to do that."

Noel, and Five Star director of K-12 services Steve Ricketts said they have researched the schools needs and believe purchasing new switches will allow it to move forward.

"Before you grow and expand, you've got to have a good foundation," Ricketts said. "(Buying POE switches) really starts to provide the foundation for the projects that we've got coming in the next couple years."

The switches are part of a five-stage process that Noel and Five Star has designed for the school. All subsequent steps require the switches to be in place.

Future stages include installing wireless Internet in all buildings, buying tablet computers for teachers and students and utilizing a new phone system that can tap into the Ethernet switches, saving the school the cost of operating dozens of individual phone lines.

Like in 2011, Hays was reluctant to spend the corporation's money on technology that might soon become redundant or outdated. He asked for more information about the research.

"I'm not against doing this, but it's the first we're hearing about it tonight," he said. "We've already made a bad decision (last April)."

Hays said the previous purchase was made under pressure to get it done before ISTEP testing that spring.

Haste was on board with the purchase this time.

"I personally think it's much needed," Haste said. "It's more than a Band-Aid, which is what we've had up to today."

Haste, who does construction work for schools, said the Five Star recommendations were solid and that the old switches, though limited, would still be useful.

Jacqui Simpson, defeated in last week's election and normally understated, was uncharacteristically vocal about the importance of moving the school corporation's technology forward.

"Anything to get them going, I think we need to do as a board," Simpson said. "I really feel phase I needs to be done tonight and phase II as soon as we can fiscally handle it."

Charlie Boller, who chose not to seek re-election and will end his term after December, asked about the possible changes in need that could occur with the election results and the ousting of State Superintendent Tony Bennett.

Scott Spencer, the principal of meeting host Roachdale Elementary, fielded the question.

"Unless we pull out of (common core testing) as a state, that need for testing is still going to be online," Spencer said.

It is becoming more common for schools to submit and conduct state testing using Internet and electronic technology. In many cases, this is required.

Ricketts said the school could meet its current needs with the switches it has, but to move forward something would have to be done.

The board voted 7-0 to approve the switches.

It appears the plan is to tackle future stages in the technology project as it becomes fiscally possible. The next step likely won't occur until next spring.

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