Verona Must Spend $500K On Tech To Be Ready For State Testing

By on October 21, 2013

MyVeronaNJ-Money-PileState-mandated standardized testing coming to Verona public schools in spring 2015 will force the district to spend as much as $500,000 on a new computer network. While that spending could be difficult to fund, it might finally solve one of the Verona public schools’ biggest problems: its old, fragile computer network, which is barely strong enough to support the current number of machines using it. The school district e-mail system, the most commonly used method of district-wide communication, crashes two to three times per week. The last big e-mail crash, just before school opened, cost us $25,000 to fix.

What the schools are missing is quite simple—a reliable network that connects the buildings, accommodates widespread Internet use and allows for the implementation of additional educational software and web-based programs for students. Eighteen months from now, the inability to support more computers will put Verona’s graduating seniors at risk.

New Jersey, along with 45 other states, adopted the Common Core curriculum standards in 2011. As a result, the NJ ASK and the HSPA tests will be obsolete by spring 2015. The new test will be the PARCC (for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), and PARCC tests are taken solely by computer. What’s more, high school seniors will not be permitted to graduate without passing the PARCC. This is only one aspect of the changes involved with the new curriculum and tests, but from a technology perspective it is the most pressing. Currently, not only does Verona not have enough computers available to take the tests–there are 750 students at H.B. Whitehorne Middle School and only 26 computers–but even if there were more computers, the schools do not have enough bandwidth to have them all online at once.  As things stand now, it is impossible to administer the PARCC test in Verona.

This technology problem is not unique to Verona. Forty percent of the districts in New Jersey are facing a similar challenge and the New Jersey Department of Education has no money to provide the connectivity the PARCC test requires. According to Steven A. Forte, superintendent of schools, it will cost $500,000 to build a network and increase our bandwidth to support and run additional computers. (The Board of Education has known for some time that Verona needs to upgrade its technology infrastructure, but the money that would have funded this spending has been cut from the BOE budget again and again to contain the tax increases.)

What now? There will be a presentation at Tuesday evening’s BOE meeting on the recommended upgrades to move our school network forward. The presentation will give a cost and proposed recommendations—not only to be ready for the PARCC, but also to have a more reliable email system, network security, system backup and file storage.

What is this?

Once a plan is in place, the next step will be funding for such a project and for that there are a few options currently being considered. Forte, who has been raising money for the district through advertising and sponsorships, has developed a multi-level plan to generate capital for the district. Additionally, the referendum being proposed for next year addresses not only our technology needs, but also those of security in the schools, general school building maintenance, and field space. (On a smaller scale, Laning Avenue school has earmarked the profits from its scrip program specifically for technology.) Forte is open to capital funding suggestions and considering the large price tag for technology alone, this funding may need to be addressed from several angles to be successful.

The BOE meets in the Verona High School library beginning at 8 p.m. The meetings are open to the public.


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3 Comments

  1. Cameron Barrett

    October 21, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    $500,000 for a network? $25,000 for an email server fix? Holy bananas, Batman — who is quoting these sky-high prices? Oh, it must be super-expensive vendors who specialize in overly-expensive solutions that rely their own closed technologies that require regular maintenance, expensive contracts, and even more-expensive specialists.

    Nearly everything our schools need can be done with open source technologies that cost much less than vendor-based solutions. All it takes is engaging with a company that will implement those technologies and then hand over the controls to our school’s IT people. But this would require our school’s IT people to take more ownership of what they are in charge of, instead of continually relying on expensive vendors.

    For example, why spend $25K on a Microsoft Exchange mail server when you could set up some Linux-based mail server with POP/IMAP services running for a fraction of the cost?

    Why rely on a vendor to set up wifi networks for each school, when I know for a fact several tech-knowledgeable parents have volunteered to work with our IT people to do so, for FREE, only to be spurned by leadership in our schools who are afraid of technology.

    Everyplace you turn, there are major savings to be had. Half a million dollars for a school-wide network is an obscene amount of money. $25,000 for a mail server is also many many magnitudes more than it should be costing.

    When are we going to get a BOE that understands technology and can direct our tax dollars better?

  2. Lee Barrios, M.Ed., NBCT

    October 21, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    There us a really simple and inexpensive solution – drop the PARCC test. NCLB began this road to testing ruin and we need to stop it now before Common Core and its technocrats eliminate everything that is good in education. Several other states have made this smart move saying no to the top down mandates brought by unqualified policymakers promoting this free market ideology where the competition theory makes winners and losers of our children and our schools.

  3. Rosemary

    October 23, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Thank-you Tracy for shedding some light on this very important topic. Hopefully it will spark thoughtfull discussion to inform us all to make make the right decisions for the future of our children and our community.

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