School technology costs expected to rise

Possible requirements from state make technology advancements a priority.

By: Matthew Kirdahy
   Technology costs in the Cranbury School could increase this year, but administrators say the additional spending is necessary to properly equip classrooms in the 21st century.
   With the completion of the large group instruction room and the emergence of state-of-the-art classroom equipment, the school is looking to improve upon what it has already integrated into the curriculum.
   School Board President Joan Rue said the state might require students to know a certain amount about computers next year, making advances in technology a priority.
   School Business Administrator Brian DeLucia said the school spent $170,000 of its $10.7 million budget on technology this year.
   "The board is finalizing the budget for next year," Mr. DeLucia said in an e-mail. "I anticipate the (technology) budget will be in the neighborhood of $200,000. But this is very preliminary."
   Ms. Rue said it’s a large expense for the district, but a necessary one.
   "Technology is a large expense in the budget because, just as there is the updating of textbooks, there always has to be the updating of hardware," she said. "Fortunately, as time has gone on, prices have gone down considerably. It’s proven to be money well spent."
   The board could discuss the district’s technology expenses Feb. 17 at 8 p.m. at a meeting in the large group instruction room.
   "Within another year, the state will finalize the core curriculum standards for what students need to know with computers," Ms. Rue said. "Our hope is that we have everything in place so that we don’t get caught unaware."
   To monitor its technological needs, the district employs Mark Nestor, a full-time computer and technology specialist, who is responsible for technical support.
   "We’re really fortunate here at the school," Ms. Rue said. "We’re beyond the point of trying to get computers in classrooms. With the help of the community, we’ve been doing that for 10 years. Now we’re actually focusing on the securing of hardware and refinement of some of our software."
   Mr. Nestor said there are a host of new classroom tools the school board could consider when formulating this year’s technology expenses.
   "(The large group instruction room) represents what I envisioned about technology in the classroom and where it’s going," Mr. Nestor said.
   Ms. Rue said the district is fortunate to have a technology expert like Mr. Nestor on staff, otherwise, the absence of his position might lead to added costs and technical support problems.
   As the school board decides where they want the technology in school to go, Mr. Nestor has proposed hardware and software upgrades that could shrink some costs.
   Mr. Nestor said the school will save money in two key places next year, on its Microsoft Office software and computer video software. He said the school will switch to a less expensive Office compatible program called Think Free Office. He said the new program costs a third of the price of Office and will save the school more than $10,000 over the next couple of years.
   For additional savings, Mr. Nestor said the school will use an "in-house video streaming server" to save about $74,000. Prior to using this in-house server, which would grant teachers access to education movies in the classroom, the school had to pay to use an outside database. Mr. Nestor said the school will have its own database that teachers can access as needed. This service will cost the school between $3,000 and $4,000.
   Mr. Nestor also recommended the use of Web sites like, which aims to replace Scantron tests that require students to shade in bubble spaces using pencil. Instead, the students would use handheld computer devices like Palm Pilots to work on class tests.
   "The kids like it because they will get to use the technology while they’re taking their quizzes," Mr. Nestor said.
   He also said he would like to have each teacher make use of a digital camera. The school would supply them and the teachers could take photos, upload them onto the school network and students could see them by the time they got home from school.
   Ms. Rue said the board is supportive of Mr. Nestor’s vision, but it might be too soon to spend money on things like cameras in classrooms though it’s something students could pickup quickly.
   "To now see the children go in and boot up a computer in kindergarten and start working away on it, I think it’s a reflection of what is going on in the world at large," Ms. Rue said. "To them it’s such second nature. It’s probably the way our parents felt about how we addressed the TV."