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Schools need tech & money to pay for it: Hyndes

School District 43 needs to upgrade its lagging network to provide reliable internet service or it will be faced with bigger problems, says board chair Melissa Hyndes.

School District 43 needs to upgrade its lagging network to provide reliable internet service or it will be faced with bigger problems, says board chair Melissa Hyndes.

But finding cash in the 2011/'12 budget to pay for the upgrade will be tougher than checking under the couch cushions for change.

The Port Moody trustee sent district officials back to the drawing board to find $800,000 in next year's operating grants to pay for the first year of leasing costs for connecting to the city of Coquitlam's QNet fibre optic service and install net monitoring tools.

While admitting it's a risk for the district to take on the burden of installing fibre optic cable to boost bandwidth at a cost of about $6 million, or about $745,000 over 20 years, Hyndes said the district has no choice if it wants to meet current demand and embrace the future.

"What are we saying? Do we value the 21st century agenda?" Hyndes said.

Internet use has climbed in recent years as students, teachers and administrators log on for exams, e-books and other course materials, BCeSIS (for provincial data collection), educational videos and the My43 web portal. But the system is slow and subject to crashes. A digital code of responsibility is being drafted to reduce non-educational use but internet use is still expected to outpace bandwidth, the district predicts.

Hyndes said the district may be facing a wake-up call in September during heavy use expected with school start-up. And while a preliminary budget recommended the upgrades wait until next year's enrolment hold-back - money the province sometimes provides if enrolment numbers are accurate - that wasn't enough of a guarantee for Hyndes.

"If we don't have a plan, what will we do?" she asked.

It won't be easy to find money for the upgrade, though, and trustees have yet to approve the technology plan introduced in February. But other trustees agreed the issue has to be dealt with.

"Technology supports students at all levels," said Anmore/Belcarra Trustee Holly Butterfield. "It's not just the brainiacs and the gifted students - it's all students

But some trustees wondered where the money would come from. "What are we going to offset it with," asked Coquitlam Trustee Diane Sowden.

Coquitlam Trustee Gail Alty, meanwhile, suggested the district look at clipping rising transportation costs to find the cash for tech upgrades. "I'd like to see that money spent on technology," she said.

Trustees were also told Victoria doesn't typically pay for technology so it may take a long time before the province sets money aside for technology to support the province's "personalized learning" agenda.

"We'll look at other items and see where we could build this in," said SD43 secretary treasurer Rick Humphreys.

Still, finding nearly $1 million in a tight budget will be difficult. Although the district received a $6-million infusion for the next school year, most of that money is going to pay for teachers and support services for kindergarten students who will start attending school for a full day in September.

Coquitlam Teachers' Association president Teresa Grandinetti warned the tech money will have to come from somewhere and suggested the district find other "less onerous" and "non-cost" ways to free up bandwidth, such as making sure the internet isn't used for non-educational purposes.

Hyndes said steps are being taken to ensure proper use of the internet through a digital code of responsibility to be introduced this fall but the district's internet capacity will still be maxed out.

District officials will also have to find to money to support middle school students who aren't attending school and to restore $8,000 in grants to the District Parent Advisory Council after trustees raised those issues as priorities.

Coquitlam Trustee Brian Robinson said the district should find $155,000 for a counsellor and a teacher to work with between 32 and 35 middle school students who aren't attending school. "Not focusing on that population of children at risk is really a disservice to the community," he said.

According to SD43 superintendent Tom Grant, the province no longer forces students to go to school with truancy officers and instead leaves it up to school districts to find "positive" ways of encouraging attendance.

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