Fairfax County schools would buy fewer classroom computers and spend more money on hiring specialists to keep the machines running and to help teachers use the technology in their lessons, under a proposal released yesterday.
The district's technology plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1 calls for purchasing only 2,700 new computers, compared with the 8,000 the school system bought in the current fiscal year.
But the number of technology specialists would increase from 41 to 114, and school officials said their goal is to provide at least one such specialist in every county school within three years. The district also would spend heavily on improving Internet connections in older schools.
The shift in priorities is necessary because the increase in the number of school computers is outpacing schools' ability to install and maintain the equipment and to ensure that it is being properly used in classrooms, school officials said.
The problem was highlighted when the district set out to install the new computers it purchased this fiscal year and found that some schools could not handle the electrical requirements of the more powerful machines. In addition, staffing shortages caused delays in getting machines hooked up.
"It became immediately apparent that . . . we were unable to keep up with putting more and more computers in our classrooms," said Maribeth Luftglass, the district's chief technology officer. "And in addition to adding lots of computers, technology has become an integral part of the curriculum. If they go down, it's a major problem because the curriculum can't continue. So support is becoming more important than ever."
In all, School Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech is proposing to spend $22 million on technology in the next fiscal year, slightly less than this year. The technology plan will be included in the budget proposal he presents to the School Board this week.
Hiring the additional 73 technology specialists would cost about $4 million. Each school with more than 1,500 students would get a full-time specialist. In the rest of the district, there would be one specialist for every two schools.
The specialists train teachers in computer use, provide ongoing technical support and serve as school-level contacts for districtwide technology initiatives.
Fairfax's proposal is unusual in that most Washington area school districts have a small core of technology specialists who rotate among several schools.
In Loudoun, computer technicians are assigned to the central office, although every school has a "technology resource teacher" to provide curriculum advice. Montgomery County has specialists comparable to Fairfax's, but only in the most wired of its schools.
Fairfax teachers and principals have long asked for more technology guidance, and news of the proposal was met with praise from some School Board members and parent activists.
"I know our people are already covering a lot more machines than they can do and do well," said School Board member Christian N. Braunlich (Lee), chairman of the board's technology committee. "The only thing worse than a school not having a computer is having a computer sitting there because there's no one to connect it, or having it sit broken because there's no one available to come fix it."
Lack of technical support "has been an area of such frustration for [school] staff members," said Rosemary Lynch, president of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs.
The plan also includes money for software that will help teachers align their instruction with the state's new curriculum guidelines, known as the Standards of Learning, on which students are being tested annually in third, fifth and eighth grade and in high school.
From their desktop computers, teachers will be able to access a large database of test questions and instructional resources, then use the data to design their own exams and assignments, school officials said.
The proposed $22 million in total technology spending is still short of the minimum of $30 million a year that the district needs to spend to keep up with its technology needs, according to an advisory committee to the School Board.