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School Board Likely Will Wait Until 1998 To Ask For Computers

Spokane school board members say they’ll likely wait until 1998 to ask taxpayers to stock schools with some $19 million in computer equipment.

They’re scaling back plans to come up with a more palatable proposal after voters rejected a $30 million technology levy two years ago.

Board members won’t vote on the matter until October, but all five said at a work session Wednesday they’re hesitant to ask for a tax increase before 1998.

“I’m afraid of a sense of deja vu if we try to go too soon,” said board member Christie Querna.

They haven’t decided whether to try a bond issue or levy.

A technology task force is recommending getting a tax increase on the ballot in spring 1997 or spring 1998.

“We’re looking at networking every classroom, and computers would find their way into virtually every classroom,” said Associate Superintendent Walt Rulffes.

Schools would initially get about one computer for every six kids, he said.

Nancy Wolfrum, who taught computer classes for teachers this summer, said teachers and students want computers sooner.

“The teachers I’ve worked with this summer are very concerned. They want to start having computers in the classroom,” Wolfrum said.

Superintendent Gary Livingston said he’d like to get the technology in classrooms sooner but is afraid voters aren’t ready.

“I know there are many staff members who disagree because we need this technology,” he said. “Kids need the technology.”

Rulffes said he expects most teachers to be trained to use computers by the time a measure reaches the ballot, in part because of sessions offered at Libby Center.

About 1,000 teachers took the free classes offered there over the summer.

Planning a computer system for two years down the road will be tough because equipment becomes obsolete so quickly, school officials said.

Projected costs are based on current equipment prices, which will likely stay about the same or drop, Rulffes said.

High schools would come out best under the latest proposal, Rulffes said.

Each would get about $850,000 in computer equipment, while middle schools would get $300,000 and elementary schools would receive some $125,000.

“We’re taking a less aggressive approach, making sure we don’t buy equipment for equipment’s sake, and making sure we take time to train staff,” said Joe Austin, technology director for Spokane schools.

Still, Austen and Rulffes said they expect voters might face another bond issue several years from now as schools try to keep up with the latest technology.

So far, Spokane teachers and students share some 3,500 computers. The district has about 30,000 students and 3,000 teachers.

“We think we’re playing catch-up,” Austin said. “There are districts all over the United States that are way ahead of us.”

, DataTimes