Source: Sherman Publications

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Bond success, failure in other districts

by Mary Keck

April 25, 2012

As Clarkstonites weigh pros and cons of the district's $20 million bond proposal, school districts on the west side of the state offer some examples.

Zeeland Public School voters approved a $20.3 million bond in May 2010, 2,501 to 1,961.

In Zeeland, about $5 million was for iPads, wireless infrastructure, Smartboards, and other technology.

About two years into the program, the district is working out some bugs.

Communications Specialist Jim Camenga said the most challenging part of introducing the technology was transforming the schools for wireless capability.

Now that they are wireless, students and teachers can access the Internet anywhere in the school, but this easy entry into the cyber world has made it necessary for Zeeland to install software to filter out pornography and other inappropriate sites.

"We want parents to feel secure," Camenga stated.

The devices also allow students access to the Internet at home and anywhere else they can find a Wi-Fi signal.

Access to inappropriate sites outside school has been an issue in local newspaper editorial pages. Zeeland Schools response was to teach students how to handle those situations and is looking into other filtering systems, Camenga said

Zeeland has also run into broken iPads damaged by both students and staff.

"They are covered with 'Gorilla Glass' (thin, light, scratch-resistant glass) that will shatter if it's dropped, but the iPad has no moving parts, which makes it durable," Camenga said.

To manage the breakage, the district encourages parents to purchase a $40 insurance policy at the start of the year. Students and their parents also sign forms when they receive iPads, which explains they are responsible for the devices.

Without insurance, students pay $250 for a broken iPad. So far, only one report of a stolen electronic device has come to Camenga's attention, but the iPad was recovered due to its tracer function.

Since the bond vote, Zeeland has fully implemented technology into their two high schools, Zeeland East and West, where almost 2,000 students are enrolled. They plan to begin releasing iPads to middle school students this August, and by Fall 2013, they hope to have all classrooms from 3rd to 12th grade equipped with the technology made possible by the bond.

Camenga said students mostly use their iPads to take notes in class and develop presentations that can be displayed on a large screen to rest of their classmates. Zeeland students use their electronic notebooks at home to review their teacher's lecture or download the reading material in preparation for their next lesson.

The school system also has some bugs to work out later. The 2010 "bond pays for the first major cycle," but because of the necessity for regular upgrades, new devices may need to be purchased in a few years, he said.

To curb costs, the school might switch to a cheaper brand of electronic notebook in the future. In the meantime, Zeeland residents may find themselves voting on a new bond that threatens to take another 'byte' out of their pocketbooks.

Principals at Zeeland East and West did not return calls for comment.

West Ottawa dealt with issues after bond failure

In West Ottawa Public Schools, voters defeated a $26 million bond proposal in May 2011. The proposal was turned down by 70 percent of voters.

"We did not listen to the people's needs, and that's one of the reasons the bond failed," said Scott VanderStoep, president of the West Ottawa school board. "You may think you know what's best for the district, but the citizens have a perspective you don't have."

West Ottawa asked residents for $5 million for technology improvements, $8 million for an athletic stadium, and $12.5 million for a performing arts center. Clarkston would devote half of its $20 million bond to technology.

According to President VanderStoep, West Ottawa is doing fine without the bond.

Students don't have mobile computing devices. They do have access to the school's computer labs, but there are some space issues, VanderStoep said.

He pointed out that students with families who have more financial resources have more access to computers to complete work at home, but those learners who don't have the same access make due with the crowded labs at school.

After voters denied the bond, West Ottawa acquired a small grant allowing them to implement technology in two rooms. If they'd succeeded at getting the bond, the school would have an advanced wireless infrastructure, Smart boards, and netbooks.

These were the school's "biggest need," VanderStoep noted, but voters seemed to think the bond was for "wants instead of needs."

In hindsight, VanderStoep thinks the technology portion of the bond would have passed if it had been separated from the performing arts center and athletic stadium. He also believes the bond failed because of bad timing.

In the future, the West Ottawa board plans to take a more "bottom-up approach" by seeking the advice of residents first. The board now has a new superintendent Tom Martin and VanderStoep believes the community is pleased with him.

He also said Martin has had success with passing bonds in previous schools, but the board doesn't currently have plans to propose another ballot initiative.