A Return of the 5-4 Split: School Board Approves New Computers
Brian Casey addresses the School Board. (City-Times photo)
Despite hefty debate on expense, Erler, Baker steer board to approve equipment upgrades with refurbished wares
By Sara Marls
The Stevens Point School Board has approved an increase of nearly $119,000 to replace aging and inoperable computers in district schools on July 14, but the decision did not come swiftly.
Director of Technology Brian Casey, who is going through his first budget process in the Stevens Point District, told the School Board only he’d budgeted about $60,000 to replace outdated hardware, unaware past department heads had not routinely updated the district’s equipment.
“We have over 750 computers in the district that are in need of replacement- I’m not saying it’s a want, it’s a need,” Casey said.
Casey said last year area schools had 100 computers fail, which accounts for a large part of the original $60,000 budget amount. “But this year we’re going to be in the same situation if we don’t replace some of the aging hardware that we have- some of our machines are 8 years old and don’t support a lot of programs we need to use. They won’t even load Windows 7.”
The district sent out an RFP- request for proposal- to take bids on the cost of replacing 600 computers which were either failing or outdated. The best price Casey said he could find was a lot of refurbished but newer computers as $198 a piece. The quote comes with a lifetime warranty and free shipping, but no options for leasing computers.
But some board members wanted more details on exactly where those funds would be taken from. Casey, along with Director of Business Services Tom Owens, tried explaining to the board that since the 2014-15 budget wasn’t yet in place, those details are yet to be determined.
Some board members said they were frustrated because they didn’t understand the budget process, and it delayed movement on many items they were being asked to decide. Owens said a workshop had been scheduled for August. Why an earlier workshop for new board members had not been scheduled wasn’t immediately known.
“I keep coming back to needing more understanding,” said Board Member Trish Baker. “I need a more global picture of the budget before I say, ‘yes, here’s another $100,000’, so my question is, when are we going to have a workshop? I have this need to see the budget and see where we’re pulling this $100,000 from.”
Board Member Alex Kochanowski said Casey should use the $60K he’d already budgeted to purchase 1/3 of the new computers needed, and purchase an additional 1/3 as often as the district budget allowed.
“If things aren’t moving along the way you’d like with this proposal, you still could save the time, going forward with the process, buying some of the new equipment and installing it,” Kochanowski said. “Either way, it’s an approved expense, so you’re going to do something with it, correct?”
Casey said buying 1/3 of the original requested amount could mean a different price, and there was no guarantee he could get this type of a discount in the future. He added the price came with a time-line and a decision had to be made by late August.
“Right now, we’re just catching up to where we should be,” Casey told the board. “This is just to get us up to what I’d call a functioning standard.”
Board Member Kim Shirek said until employee contracts were agreed upon she wouldn’t support the purchase.
“I’m not against this, but when I make a purchase from my own budget, I have to know that I have enough money. If I buy a refrigerator, I have to know where it’s coming from,” Shirek said. “Right now, we have salaries we’ve pushed off and pushed off, that we don’t know we have the funds for. And I understand this is going to help our staff, but I want to know where this money is coming from. If we’re taking everything from fund balance, guess what? We’re going to pull from there for (employee) negotiations. We have to take care of our staff.”
Owens told the board the bulk purchase was the easiest and most economical.
“The best way to approach this would be to go ahead and make these purchases now, and take advantage of these extremely low costs,” Owens said. “Get the computers they need; we can ad-just his budget and make everything fit in the budget.”
Owens added this was part of the budget process, and most budget items are presented and approved in much the same way before final budget talks in October.
‘“Worst-case scenario, we could take it one time from the fund balance because this is a one-time expense,” he said.
Baker said she would agree with the move, “albeit with hesitation”, provided Casey would per-form routine upgrades on the hardware regularly to prevent an across-the-board expense like this one. Board members Chris Scott, Jeff Ebel, President Angel Faxon and newly- appointed Board Member Meg Erler all agreed with Baker.
Board Members Lisa Totten, Jeff Presley, Alex Kochanowski and Shirek all voted against the purchase.
“I’m not in support of this because continual support of this type of stuff- it seems to perpetuate a silo in the budget and I think we need to have a more global approach. I’m not saying we don’t need it, I just want to make sure the budget can sustain this,” Totten said.
Casey said he plans to have at least some of the computers in classrooms by the start of the school year.