By Polly Keary, Editor
– Monroe Monitor –
Chalkboards and film projectors used to be all that were required to give kids a good education.
But kids today are growing up in a world radically different than that of their parents’ generation.
They are going to live, work and study in a high-tech world, and they need a high tech school to learn how to do it in, Monroe educators say.
Monroe’s school district isn’t providing enough tech to adequately prepare kids for the world they will inherit, the school district administration believes. So next month, they will ask for two levies. One will be the usual “Learning Levy,” which expires at the end of the year, and the other will be a levy to pay for technology upgrades for Monroe classrooms.
Proposition 1: Learning Levy
“The Learning Levy for school operations is the one that the community has consistently provided that provides about 20 percent of our operating costs of schools,” said school district spokesperson Rosemary O’Neil. “It is our levy that is ongoing. It’s been ongoing over the years.”
Although in the past the district has asked for four-year levies, the last levy was only for two years because of the uncertainty over possible changes in the economy and in the amount of money the state would give the schools.
The school district in 2011 asked for a levy of up to $16.1 million per year because there was some talk about the state no longer providing supplementary funds to some schools that didn’t get as much levy money as others.
The fear proved unfounded, so the taxpayers ended up paying only about $14 million per year.
The new Learning Levy, if passed, will include a series of increases for the next four years.
The district would collect $15 million in 2015 and increase by $1 million per year through 2018.
For the owner of a home with the average value of $261,900, the levy now costs $77 per month. That amount would increase four dollars per year for the next four years, ending at about $95 per month in 2018.
The failure of the levy would have a profound impact on the district, O’Neil said.
“What happens if the levy goes away? I read someone in a newspaper say that it would be like a neutron bomb went off,” said O’Neil. “It touches every piece of what we do. Twenty percent of the budget is a big number.”
Proposition 2: Tech Levy
The tech levy would add another $7 per month to the tax bill on the average house for the next six years, and would bring the district $1.25 million per year for a total of $7.5 million.
“Our community has been helpful for funding for technology, but a request to renew a tech levy in 2010 was not passed,” said O’Neil. “Those needs have not gone away and have only gotten more intense as the state goes to all online testing in a year or so.”
Also, she said, kids still need to be ready to work in a computer tech-rich environment when they graduate or go to work or on to college.
“The goal is that we need to help young people be more successful by giving them greater engagement with tech,” said O’Neil.
Two years ago, a team of community members and educators compiled a list of the equipment that they believed every classroom should have, at the least. They included a computer for the teacher, two computers for student use, an interactive whiteboard, a document camera, a presentation device such as a ceiling-mounted projector, and an audio-reinforcement system such as speakers positioned so that all kids could hear equally well, a tablet computer for the teacher so that the teacher could move around the classroom while operating the device, and a printer.
“Not all our classrooms have that,” said O’Neil. “In fact, at the high school, Principal John Lombardi said he only has one classroom that had all that.”
But Assistant Superintendent for Operations John Mannix thinks that, with careful husbandry of the levy money, all the classrooms could get to that standard within four years.
Also, the levy will replace aging equipment. Microsoft will stop supporting Windows XP this spring, and the district has about 2,000 computers using that operating system.
Then the levy could pay for improved connectivity with the outside world.
“There’s a significant gap in the system between the connections to the outside world that connect at the corner of the buildings, and the system that connects to the actual computers,” said O’Neil. “The wiring in the schools doesn’t carry the high speeds and volumes that the new systems do. More data could be of more use to kids.”
Finally, many of the school buildings are festooned with power strips and extension cords because they were built in an era when two outlets sufficed for a classroom.
“Those improvements are included in the levy,” said O’Neil.
The levy ballots will be mailed to voters Jan. 23 and must be turned in or postmarked by Feb. 11.