Not created equal

Classroom technology varies widely from school to school in the Osseo School District

When it comes to technology, not all schools are created equal in the Osseo School District.

A classroom amplification system that helps students hear teachers easily is supposed to be standard equipment in all kindergarten through ninth-grade classrooms. But it’s not.

In fact, not one of the 32 “learning spaces” at Garden City Elementary in Brooklyn Center has an amplification system, according to numbers from the district’s latest tech survey in November. None of the 29 learning spaces at Park Brook Elementary in Brooklyn Park has the system either.

At Weaver Lake Elementary, a magnet school in Maple Grove, 32 of the 49 learning spaces, or 65 percent, have amplification. Basswood Elementary in Maple Grove has the second-highest percentage, with 39 of its 64 learning spaces equipped with amplification, or 61 percent.

Classroom amplification was one of five minimum classroom standards the school board set in May 2010. Since adopting the standards, the district hasn’t had the funds to fully implement them.

“I don’t have money set aside in my capital budget to do this,” Chief Technology Officer Tim Wilson said. “… So in the absence of a tech levy, in the absence of additional resources, we’re maintaining what we have … but we’re not able to expand significantly what we have.”

In the summer of 2010 the district delayed regularly scheduled hardware upgrades one year to free up money in the capital budget for classroom technology improvements. The district has remained in maintenance mode since then.

Consequently, schools have been moving toward the minimum tech standards haphazardly at varying paces. Wilson said if schools make improvements, it’s typically because someone at the site applied for a grant, because the parent-teacher organization paid for it or because the school decided to purchase it with discretionary funds, such as compensatory aid from the state.

The result is vast inequities in technology from school to school.

In the case of classroom amplification systems, it has created a disparity that roughly divides the district along socioeconomic boundaries.

Most of the elementary schools in Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park have an extremely low percentage of classrooms with amplification. Schools in Maple Grove, the wealthier part of the district, tend to have a much higher percentage of classrooms equipped with amplification.

When looking at other technologies, no such pattern seems to exist. But there are still significant differences from site to site.

Wilson doesn’t believe the district’s policies are to blame. When the district allocated money for technology in 2010, he said, staff at individual schools were able to choose the priorities for their sites.

“We took the money that was available, we allocated it per-student to the site, and then the site could choose from a menu of items,” he said. “… They could choose what would best serve their site.”

Wilson doesn’t think any single factor created the east-west disparity observed in the distribution of classroom amplification.

According to Wilson, the district does want to increase equity among its schools. He said if the technology levy on the ballot in November had been approved, the district would have brought all classrooms up to its minimum standards within two years.

Based on November estimates, that would carry a price tag in the neighborhood of $1.5 million – money the district doesn’t have.

Members of the school board have recently expressed concern about the inequities, and the board is considering an integration technology levy to help reduce the problem.

The school board will officially decide March 5 whether to seek authority from the Minnesota Department of Education to collect $1.5 million in the form of an integration levy from taxpayers for technology beginning in 2014. The district says taxpayers wouldn’t shoulder an increase in what they pay under a plan to offset the levy by shifting revenue streams from another area.

Wilson said it’s too early to know whether all the money from such a levy would go directly to raising all classrooms to the minimum standard.

Nevertheless, he said, “these dollars would potentially help us to address some of the equity there.”

Osseo School District minimum classroom technology standards, adopted May 2010

• Wireless network access

• A mounted projector

• A document camera that allows teachers to place a sheet of paper or an object under the camera so it can be projected onto a screen

•Some type of wireless input device, such as a wireless mouse or keyboard, that allows the teacher to be mobile while using the computer and projector

• Classroom amplification system (in kindergarten through ninth grade)