February 13, 2014The following questions and answers about the Feb. 25 bond election was provided by the Grosse Pointe Public School System. Letters to the editor are published in the A section of this week's paper. The deadline for letter for next week is 3 p.m. Monday, Feb. 17. Part 2 of 3:
Why can't this be paid for with General Operating Budget Funds?
Since the 2007-08 year school year, we have reduced our operating budget by over $5.3 million. We have minimized costs by delaying purchases or purchasing refurbished machines. The district has spent down fund equity from a high of $22 million to under $10 million last year triggering our unique salary formula that deducts from every employee in the district until we reach that agreed-upon $10 million minimum needed for good credit. The latest audit was presented in November  and the fund equity is now just over $2 million. Because of the limitations on revenues for the general fund operating budget and the lack of alternate resources, the Board and administration together chose to keep funds focused on direct instruction as we maintained a balanced budget. While we were able to protect programs and class sizes, technology was an area that saw drastic reductions. We have reached a critical point where the technology we have is insufficient to meet the needs of today's learners.
Why bond now?
Interest rates on school bonds remain at historically low levels. When interest rates are lower, the overall cost of financing the improvements is lower. A lower interest rate may allow for a lower millage rate or reduce the time period for retiring the bonds.
How was this plan developed?
Several committees were formed during the 2012/13 school year, comprised of community members, board members, teachers, technology staff and administrators … A request for quotations was issued in September 2013, and from the seven responses a consortium of Ehresman, Wright & Hunter, and Peter Basso Associates was chosen to work with the administration to develop a proposal to bring before the board. That proposal was presented at a public meeting Monday, Nov. 11. Using input from all of these sources, and acknowledging additional work will be needed from each group as the plan moves forward, the Board determined to finance the capital elements of the next phase of the plan and voted Nov. 25 to place the bond on the Feb. 25, 2014 ballot.
What are the major features and costs of the technology bond program?
The administration's proposal is a 10-year technology program. Use of the bond proceeds will focus first on infrastructure to support increased data flow while establishing building-wide wireless access. As the infrastructure is updated, pilots will be conducted in our own buildings, with our own staff and students to betatest device solutions and determine what works best at each level and in each building. Many of our buildings are nationally designated historic sites with unique challenges as we implement today's technological tools. To support that, we have also begun to roll out a tiered professional development plan that utilizes group training, one-on-one training with technology experts and videotaped sessions we are archiving online. The second phase will focus on rolling out the student computing devices chosen by level, with built-in refreshes throughout the life of the grant as students move from level to level and based on end of useful life data.
What is the timeframe of the bond compared to the items purchased with these funds?
The administration's bond proposal extends for ten (10) years through a series of bonds. The bond purchases are structured to first focus on infrastructure. As the infrastructure is being installed, we will conduct a pilot program through PTO and Grosse Pointe Foundation for Public Education grant funds on which individual computing devices work best for our GPPSS students' learning needs, by level, in our buildings. In year two, the first round of technology devices will be purchased using market research, data from similar districts and local pilot project results. Device refreshes are scheduled throughout the life of the grant. Currently, 85 percent of the district workstations and laptops are 7 to 12 years old, which is older than the average age of our elementary students.
What are the different options being looked at for the new security camera system and who is advising on the best system, and best implementation of this system?
One of the permitted expenses within a technology bond is security hardware and software. The district continues to meet regularly with representatives from each of the municipalities to review and update our safety plan and discuss high and low-tech tools that help with those procedures. In addition, the district used a grant through Wayne Regional Education Service Agency to work with a security specialist. That security company (Recon Management) met with all of our administrators regarding the people factors and processes we can adjust to increase security (always lock doors of rooms not in use, use buzzer systems, know the security plan, run through common options, discuss placement of cameras for security versus loss prevent). That same company then completed a walkthrough of every school building and its grounds in the spring of 2013 and provided written recommendations specific to each school campus. That company does not sell any equipment or service beyond the audit. However, recommendations are available through our network of school districts.
Per state law and local practice, any purchases above $21,000 will go through a bidding process and to the board of education for approval.
Our security technology being proposed is to help monitor entrances, hallways, stairways, parking lots, playground and athletic fields. Many of our buildings are open to the public before and after school activities for students and adults. The additional networked cameras will assist our administrators, public safety officials and insurance claims when investigating vandalism and student issues, as well as provide an added deterrent for undesirable activities. The quality of the images will be much improved and the areas of coverage will be significantly expanded, leading to a more safe and secure learning environment.
Is there money included in this to accomodate that OS changeover and technology upgrade to accmmodate the new OS?
We recognize that with the new lifestyle of Microsoft Windows products, all existing versions of Windows will no longer be supported, even in an extended role, by 2023. Our current equipment cannot handle the software upgrades that exist today. The district will continue to analyze best options as we work through this, acknowledging that there must always be flexibility when planning for technology as new hardware and software are continuously developed. Furture technology selected by the district may not be a Microsoft prduct, but we will be prepared for migration to future operating software versions.
Windows XP will lose extended support on April 8, 2014. What is the plan for changing OS this year, to avoid security lapse and make the best choice of the new OS, Windows 7, 8 or Mac OS.
Our current equipment cannot handle the software upgrades that exist today to move beyond XP. Although our annual support agreement with Microsoft ensures we have access to the most current version of operating software, we do not have the funds to replace all the equipment necessary to run the latest version in all of our classrooms and offices. Our district servers have been upgraded to the latest versions of Microsoft which will allow us to begin the migration of compatible computers to the Windows 7. The district is doing everything it can, within a balanced budget, to meet the needs of today's learners and educators, but to move beyond where we are now will require additional funds.
Microsoft support for Windows XP ends April 2014. We can continue to run Windows XP indefintely without support. End of support does not mean the end of useful life. We keep hackers out of the district netork using our CheckPoint firewall, which is current and was replaced in 2012. We also prevent unauthorized acces through our secure login and by Microsoft group policies. This prevents users from installing unauthorized programs or changing network settings. The anti-virus software was replaced by Microsoft ForeFront software this summer (2013) which prevents computer viruses and malware from being installed on the network. Critical data is stored on file servers that run Microsoft server software, not Windows XP. Windows XP is only the desktop and laptop software on devices connected to the network. Our server software is constantly updated with critical security patches from Microsoft. We also upgraded our servers to Microsoft server 2008 this summer (2013) to prepare from migration to Windows 7 and to keep pace with Microsoft development.
What metrics will be used to evaluate potential software?
Anticipated lifecycle of the software.
Initial deployment cost.
Upgrade and licensing cost.
Constraints based on existing devices.
Software support cost.
Network requirements. Value added to our educational, security or business process.
Optimization for use with mobile devices.
Multi location support.
Inter-operability with other software.
Typical resouces required for data migration.
Access to professional development.
Are all students ready for an all digital learning environment?
No, and we won't ask that of them. The GPPSS works to meet the needs of every student, every day. This requires a well-rounded and multi-faceted approach to learning. The digital upgrades this bond will allow would enrich our learning environment, spark student interest and creativity, assist in establishing more opportunity for project-based learning, and better prepare students for continued learning in higher education and the workforce. We will continue to do what we do well, but this will be a powerful tool in our tool belt.
Do our implementation objectives match our education objectives?
Yes. Each proposed purchase is directly tied to the district's strategic Plan for Continuous Improvement which is posted on our website, gpschools.org.
What do we want, but don't have?
We want an infrastructure that can support the needs of today's learners. We want hardware and software that assists that learning porcess, unlike the antiquated machines and software we are now using in classrooms and for business purposes. We want to be competitive with the other school districts when parents are determining where to live and send their child to school. We want to better prepare students for the technological demands of higher education and the workforce.
For the final installment of Q&A, provided by the district, see next week's edition of the Grosse Pointe News.
Other school stories are in Section A of this week's paper, beginning on page 1A.