Conway School Board - Joe Lentini

Conway School Board Chairman Joe Lentini believes the school district is on the right path by establishing a four-year computer replacement schedule. (LLOYD JONES PHOTO)

CONWAY — A change in computer licensing is forcing the Conway School District to replace more than 1,000 computer tablets over the next to years.

Dale Anderson, the technology coordinator for the district, shared that news last week with the Conway School Board.

School Superintendent Kevin Richard unveiled the first draft of the budget on Nov. 12, which reflects a $708,272 increase over last year, or a 1.93 percent jump from 2019-20, up to $39,122,221.

There is a $71,465 increase (7.65 percent) to the technology budget.

“We have an obsolescence plan for replacing a lot of the Chromebooks,” Superintendent Kevin Richard explained during an overview of the budget. “We need to start moving these things forward, replacing the old and putting in the newer pieces. The bulk of the increase is in equipment.”

A Chromebook is a laptop or tablet computer marketed by Google, that runs Google’s Chrome Operating System and the Google Chrome browser.  It usually has little storage space on the computer and most of its programs and data are stored in the cloud.

Anderson brought his request to the Conway School Board’s Budget Committee on Nov. 12.

The committee is made up of all seven Conway School Board members (Courtney Burke, Michelle Capozzoli, Randy Davison, Joe Lentini, Joe Mosca, Cheri Sullivan and Jessica Whitelaw) along with SAU 9 representative Tim Sorgi, who sits on the Albany School Board.

There is an opening for an SAU 13 School Board member to sit on the committee, but the seat has gone vacant for decades.

“There are some increases in our hardware,” Anderson told the committee. “What happened is, over the summer, Google changed their licensing structure and they are enforcing a shorter lifespan to the license on Chromebooks. What that means is that beyond a certain age, the Chromebooks, although they may be functional, we can no longer update the operating system on them.”

The district is in the final year of a three-year technology plan. The third year, as outlined on the SAU 9 website, seeks to “replace Chromebooks and other computing devices across the district in accordance with their obsolescence cycle. Expand the use and deployment of interactive whiteboards. Continue to increase the deployment of interactive whiteboards in each building.”

Anderson said the district currently has 1,013 Chromebooks.

“We have 1,013 Chromebooks that are out of license right now,” he said. “At the moment it hasn’t created a problem because of the operating system it’s on right now is only approximately two or three revisions behind.”

He added: “What I’m attempting to do in this budget is to replace approximately 50 percent of the Chromebooks that are out of license.

“I believe that will give us a sufficient quantity within the building to where we can continue to function in the coming year rather than try to do all of them in one fell swoop. We have to try to do this in chunks.”

Anderson said the district originally purchased the Chromebooks in bulk to get the best deal possible.

“Unfortunately, they all expire at the same time,” he said. “That’s what most of the $35,092 in equipment (increase) is for.”

There is a $7,300 increase in the technology budget for network/email support licenses.

“That has to do with our network filtering,” Anderson explained. “There are devices we have in place as well as cloud-filtering which keeps the kids from accidentally stumbling onto content that would be inappropriate.”

Anderson said he reduced his request for new computer funds, rather opting to have it go toward replacement equipment “in order to try to mitigate the impact on the budget regarding an increase.”

“We needed to get ahead of this, because, at some point, the licensing on these Chromebooks is going to prevent us from doing online state testing or anything that requires the latest version of the operating system. We’re trying to get ahead of that before it becomes a crisis.

Lentini, chair of the Conway School Board, asked how old the current Chromebooks are.

“They are five and six years old,” Anderson replied. “We’ve been lucky because, until recently, they hadn’t been enforcing this.

“We licensed them and we had been running these things right into the ground. We have one or two around that are seven years old and are still running. It’s a testament to a $330 device to be able to get seven years out of it. We’re replacing some laptops right now, and the starting price is $1,300.

He added: “These have been a really good benefit but now (Google) is holding us closer to a four-year replacement cycle.”

“Is the plan going forward to set it up, if it’s a four-year license,” Lentini asked, “would you look to replace a quarter every year, but you’re having to do a larger block right now?”

“That’s correct,” Anderson said. “We’re doing the larger block right now to kind of catch up.”

The technology department for the Conway School District features Anderson along with one technician and one technology aide based at Kennett High School; one technician based at Kennett Middle School; one technician shared among John H. Fuller School, Conway Elementary School and Pine Tree School; three technology aides, one at each elementary school; and one technology aide shared district-wide.

The district is bracing for a jump of $635,631 in possible health increases (a 10 percent increase over last year).

Richard said the district will receive a guaranteed maximum price from its health insurance provider during the first week of December.

In planning this budget, officials projected a 10 percent increase in health insurance premiums.

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