Voters approve school tech levy

Lopez Island School’s tech levy was approved during February’s special election.

by Mandi Johnson

Weekly editor

Lopez Island School’s tech levy was approved during February’s special election. As of 2:26 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 10, a total of 71.41 percent of voters voted yes, a total of 707 out of 990 votes.

Within the county there were 5,702 ballots submitted, a voter turnout of 47.44 percent.

“Staff, parents and community members worked together for months assessing the school’s technology gap, and created a plan that was broad in scope and thorough,” said Dixie Budke, chairwoman of the Instructional Technology Committee and School Board member.  “Analysis was also done to compare the vast number of device and software options available at this juncture.  It is currently thought that a multi-platform design would be the most effective.”

A group of more than 20 people comprised of teachers, staff, students, graduates, school administration, parents and community members were part of the committee which set the amounts each student would be allocated. It took a lot of calculation and cooperation with other schools to decide the necessary budget. The committee also looked at other island school’s budgets and considered other amounts both above and below before deciding. Ultimately, the amount was settled upon after the advisory committee had reviewed and balanced the financial abilities of the community with what is necessary to meet the school’s technological needs and to catch up from years of underinvestment.

Prior to the vote, the most recent technology levy Lopez had passed was nine years ago, and was for a one-time amount of $150,000. With that levy in 2007, the school purchased Netbooks. The Netbooks, however, only have a lifespan of 18 to 24 months. Many of the computers no longer work. Additionally, the last levy did not allocate any funds to replace the Netbooks, nor did it cover training or staffing required to maintain the technology.

The levy will allow a total of $655 be dedicated per student per year. San Juan Island currently has a technology levy allowing for $856 per student per year, and Orcas has one which allows $1000 per student per year.

The National Education Association has established a “framework for 21st century learning,” and has identified important skills for K-12 students. These skills that have been identified are known as the “Four Cs”: critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration.

Humans are inundated with a innumerable amounts of information, and students need to be taught how to best utilize the information they’re provided. This is where critical thinking comes into play. Because of the levy, students and teachers will now receive proper technological training to face today’s advanced computer systems.

Creativity is important as well, whether it is done by writing an essay or short story, creating a video, exploring different types of visual artwork, or music, computers enable a plethora of mediums for self-expression. The tech levy will now allow the Lopez school to potentially supply the necessary technology for students to practice their diverse creative skills.

Additionally, methods and modes of communication are ever changing. In today’s world of Skype, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, teachers need technology and skills to accommodate and teach proper social media etiquette and responsible use guidelines. According to the FAQ released by the school prior to the vote, the levy will now allow for teachers to receive that training, and be able to share their newfound knowledge with their students.

And finally, collaboration. Technological expertise must be developed in students, not just a very basic understanding. Modern society is heavily supported by technology. According to the FAQ, with updated technology, students will be able to use cloud storage, have virtual meetings and to learn how to conduct their lives effectively in the world of such advances.

The levy will supply new computers, devices and workstations, providing students and teachers with 21st century tools right in the class room. According to the school’s FAQ, the technology acquired with levy funds will provide Lopez students with the tools and technological understanding that is required to succeed in today’s college and career environments.

The levy also allows for the school to invest in software, aiding students in learning and understanding new ideas and powerful concepts.

“Specific selections have not yet been made as technology changes rapidly, and committee members felt it best to be on the cutting edge at the time of purchase, which will be in 2017,” said Budke. “The plan is to have the first round of devices purchased, software determined and teachers trained when the newly refurbished school opens in September 2017.”

The school will be able to acquire technical support, and be properly staffed to keep the new equipment running smoothly. The new technical support staff will also be able to protect students by filtering and monitoring any activity on the school’s network, securing students’ digital safety.

The Tech Levy totals $150,000 per year for four years. Taxpayers will be responsible for 13 cents on every $1,000 assessed value, or $52 per year for a $400 thousand parcel; this works out to be approximately $4.33 per month.

“A sincere thank you to everyone who has helped move this initiative forward,” said Budke. “Our students education will be enhanced thanks to the generosity of many.”