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Bandwidth becoming a learning block at KM

District looking at referendum to pay for high cost of technology

Oct. 24, 2012

At Kettle Moraine Middle School in one seventh grade house, students spread out with laptops to work on memoirs. Next door, laptops sit poised waiting for students to come in from their outdoor science exploration. Using technology like Google Apps for Education for online collaboration of assignments and mass communication of information available anywhere, anytime, provides efficiency for teachers; however, it comes at a cost.

Bandwidth and wireless access points limit use at KMMS where access points only accommodate 30 people at a time. KMMS Principal Theresa Gennerman has concentrated on installing additional access points in one house at about $1,000 each.

"The infrastructure is holding us back," Gennerman explained. "If we can spend money on access points, we can let kids bring their own devices."

While Gennerman is planning on rolling out BYOD (Bring Your Own Devices) to seventh-graders to increase use of technology and remove barriers of individual access, the district struggles to provide the necessary bandwidth to provide uninterrupted access.

ALEKS and Digits math programs allow personalized, interactive learning but are only available on a limited basis to KMMS students because of limited bandwidth and access points.

"This is how kids are learning," Gennerman pointed out.

However in an older building where the number of electrical outlets further complicate the situation, bandwidth is only one stumbling block to learning without boundaries, but its limiting grasp encompasses the entire district.

On Sept. 18 Director of Facility Services Dale Zabel outlined $14.4 million in urgent facility needs and $4.2 million in needs that can wait three to five years and Director of Technology Services Brandon Kostolni's listed urgent technology needs of about $2.5 million with further needs estimated at $1.9 million. On Oct. 16, the KM School Board looked at timelines for a referendum, aiming for one in 2014 provides time to gather information and inform the public, but pinches urgent technology and facility needs, which then wouldn't begin being addressed until 2015 or 2016.

While School Board members favored having more time to prepare for a referendum, interim solutions for pressing needs could be costly.

"It doesn't change the urgency of technology needs," said Superintendent Pat Deklotz.

Zabel said they could make things run for a while but might be spending more than they want as they continue to patch aging buildings and equipment.

Kostolni said he would have to find a short-term solution to bandwidth, possibly buying bandwidth for the interim, which would be "extremely costly."

"It's not ideal, but we'll have to make something work," said Kostolni. "Once you get into larger increments of bandwidth, the cost goes up dramatically."

School Board President Gary Vose said it would be preferable to take more time to allow the public to digest information about needs and associated costs.

"Success is called getting the referendum to pass," said Vose. "We want to do everything we can."

School board member Dennis Krueger stressed the public should understand they are still in the stage of gathering information on potential costs. Zabel and Kostolni will explore options and costs for interim solutions to technology and facility needs that could carry the district to a 2014 referendum and bring that information back to the board.

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