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Catty School Board can't reach consensus on proposed tech initiative

By Stephen Althouse, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Mar 05 2014 12:12:37 AM CST
Updated On: Mar 05 2014 12:18:17 AM CST
CATASAUQUA, Pa. -

A spirited debate about an initiative that would dramatically alter how computer technology is utilized in the Catasauqua Area School District's high school dominated Tuesday night's board of directors meeting and resulted in what could best be described as a work in progress.

The "One To One Technology Initiative" would equip every student in the high school with an 11-inch Apple MacBook Air device.

The district would lease 581 devices in a four-year deal at the cost of $162,964 annually.

Superintendent Robert Spengler and his administration took great lengths to extol the virtues of the program, utilizing copious slides and oral presentations to make their case why every student in the high school needs a laptop to have a more valuable educational experience that would afford them 21st century skills.

"This is our attempt to implement the most cost-effective, efficient program with no additional technical support persons," Spengler said at one point of his initiative.

Spengler maintained the initiative enables the district to provide students with 24 hours, seven days a week learning and access to instructional resources that is reflective of today's learning.

"It will help prepare our students for college or a career," he said.

If the program is approved, it would signal the end of traditional-based learning where the district would move away from the need for books and "seat time" in a classroom.

The program would have electronic homework assignments for students, along with projects and assessment submissions.

Spengler is ready, willing and able to move on the measure as early as the 2014-2015 school year, noting a few times during Tuesday night's meeting that the school is way behind in its evolution in technology planning let alone the implementation.

With board approval, the district would begin rolling out the implementation, starting with numerous parent and teacher meetings.

But it didn't go that smoothly.

A vigorous and nuanced debate was forged primarily by two directors who said the board simply doesn't know where they stand on next year's budget, whether they have the cash to actually spend and that the proposal glossed over too many subjects and lacked some attention to detail that could, down the road, come back to haunt the district that is already short on funds.

"I'm not convinced we have the dollars to do this," said Director Christine Naegel. "...How can I vote on something without having all the information."

Those were largely the sentiments of fellow Director Dawn Berrigan, although she also advocated for more information about overhauling the entire district's use of technology - at the middle and elementary school level - so that the district wasn't spending money on a piecemeal scenario.

She added the directors needed more information before voting on such a major initiative.

Waiting was anathema to Spangler, along with President Penny Hahn and Vice President Carol Cunningham.

Director Donald Panto said he understood Naegel and Berrigan's premise, but that he was satisfied with the presentation and that the district can't wait any longer and that if a vote had been held Tuesday night, he would vote "yes."

After more intense debate, the board could reach no consensus.

They will reopen the debate at April's board meeting and in the interim they will review cases of how similar programs faired in other school districts, to help them arrive at their decisions.

In other business, the board approved the 2014-2015 budgets for the Carbon-Lehigh Intermediate Unit and the Lehigh Career & Technical Institute, but rejected the proposed 2014-2015 budget for the Lehigh Carbon Community College by a 6-2 vote.

Earlier in the meeting, directors and administrators learned they have realized about a $500,000 increase in capital due to the refinancing of their 2006A Bond Series, with about $484,000 of that money directly able to impact the 2014-2015 budget.