Iowa City School Board levels technology inequalities

BY DEREK KELLISON | MAY 02, 2012 6:30 AM

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An improved Internet connection is spreading to one Iowa City school as part of a district-wide effort to wipe out technology disparities.

At the Iowa City School Board meeting Tuesday, board members unanimously approved the installation of a fiber-optic line for Internet at Wood Elementary, 1930 Lakeside Drive, one of 13 on a list of district schools to receive fiber-optic connections.


David Dude, the district's director of Information Services, said Wood's connection would greatly relieve concerns about the district's technological disparity. He noted that some teaching programs cannot run on sluggish Internet connections.

"[Installing the fiber-optics] will help incredibly," Dude said. "It will make a huge difference in what the school will be able to do."

Wood currently runs on a T1 network, which is 100 times slower than a fiber-optic network. The contract for the upgrade will cost the district more than $25 million, funded by an Iowa City grant to the district.

Board member Sara Swisher said the Wood Elementary neighborhood has been at a disadvantage for Internet access because of its high poverty rate and growing Internet service expenses.

"Having adequate Internet access is doubly important in [Wood Elementary's] neighborhood," she said. "This will definitely help level out the playing field for some families."

Board member Karla Cook said inequalities in district technology arose because of a 2007 Iowa court settlement with Microsoft Corp. Approximately $1 million from the settlement was distributed by the group of Iowa consumers to Title I schools.

"Right now, we have to know how much money we're going to need to address the technology issues in the district and develop a plan to use it," she said. "Ideally, we'd like to have one document camera and one smart board in every classroom."

According to a 2011 district technology report, the entire district is in need of end-user technology, which are basic technology like computers outside of classroom. Dude said the cost for additional computers would cost $1.5 million.

Though some district parents have viewed the distribution as unfair, Cook said, many don't realize where the inequalities came from.

"You don't want to turn away something someone gives you," she said.

Cook said the district needs appropriate funding to reach full technological equality across the district, which is currently developing a technology budget and plan to be discussed at the next board meeting, May 15.

Dude said he is accepting bids from vendors and discussing solutions such as the fiber-optic connection.

"We're still trying to figure out all the logistics of the plan," he said. "Some schools have equipment in every classroom, and other schools have equipment in no classrooms."

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