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NACS told timing key to tech-upgrade plans

The Northwest Allen County Schools board heard during a meeting Monday that the district is not unique in its need for technology and guidance on how to move forward with implementing it in the classroom.

At the end of last year, the district’s board approved hiring consultant Electronic Strategies Inc., or ESI, to evaluate its technology department and infrastructure to help the district determine its technology needs as the state Department of Education increases online testing mandates.

“Ten years ago, technology was a luxury, … now it’s a requirement,” said Jim Caldwell, practice director with ESI and the consultant who worked with the district.

Caldwell interviewed Northwest Allen administrative staff, teachers and technology staff to learn about perceptions of technology in the district. He said the perception is that the district isn’t ready for an initiative that would give each student a computing device.

He told board members that moving forward the district will need an employee who mostly works on planning for technology three to five years out.

“Technology is a very expensive mistake,” he said. “It’s critical you make the right purchases at the right time.”

He said the district will also need to add technology support staff along with a curriculum director who is “married to the information technology director.” He recommended reorganizing and centralizing the current staff, instead of principals overseeing technology employees in each district building.

Superintendent Chris Himsel said the district learned that its network, as it exists, would not support more use of technology. Staff also expressed concerns about the district’s system of requesting help with technology and the timeliness in which problems are addressed.

Caldwell’s assessment didn’t include recommendations for hardware or software.

Himsel admitted the district is behind with technology, but a major challenge will be how the district will pay for any initiative.

He said NACS is on track to lose about 50 percent of what it would collect in property taxes because of property tax caps. The fund from which the district pays for technology is a property-tax-supported fund.

The district and the board will now need to analyze the assessment to see what the district’s priorities are and what can be done with different funding options, Himsel said. The district has already developed a technology plan related to curriculum called Tech2020, which was developed last year.

Himsel said at the board’s April 29 board meeting it will hear from financial advisers who will offer different financing options. The board will likely look at refinancing its current debt, using short-term loans, asking taxpayers to support a referendum or doing nothing, Himsel said.

“We now know what we need to do to get where we want to be,” he said. “The question is how do we pay for it?”