By Pat Jenkins
A proposed influx of technology dominated the discussion last Thursday at a community forum on Bethel School District’s levies.
Graham-Kapowsin High School was the setting for the first of three such forums the district scheduled to help explain its School Programs and Operations Levy and School Technology Levy in next month’s special-election. The second forum was held Monday at Bethel High School, and the third is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Spanaway Lake High.
The programs and operations (P&O) levy is the bigger of the two measures. The four-year proposal, if approved by voters, would replace the previous P&O and comprise 23 percent of the district’s general budget by collecting between $40 million and $45 million per year from 2015 to 2018.
The money would cover classroom and related purposes, including all-day kindergarten, interscholastic sports and building maintenance. Funding also would be used for new curriculum in math, science and language arts, groundskeeping, maintenance and custodians at schools, campus security, and student transportation, including activity buses.
“I don’t know how we’d operate the district” without the nearly 25 percent share of overall funding that the P&O levy provides, said district superintendent Tom Siegel.
But it was the technology levy – a proposal to collect $4.5 million a year for four years beginning in 2015 – that generated the most give-and-take between district officials and nine community members who attended the forum in Graham-Kapowsin’s auditorium.
Siegel, offering anecdotes of industries that already require high levels of technology and will continue that way for future workers, said technology is a key to preparing students for higher education and working. Money from the technology levy would enable the district to assign a laptop or some version of tablet computer to each student in the Bethel district as a way to enhance instruction.
“Kids get so interested when they interact with learning and technology,” Siegel said.
The levy funds would also ensure:
• The additional network systems, hardware and software for such an expansive use of techology.
• Technology access for students in every grade from kindergarten through high school.
• New technology-aided methods of teaching, and the support for teachers to implement those methods.
Siegel and other officials said a precise plan for all of that is still in its early stages.
But some audience members questioned what they called a lack of complete information on how technology would be deployed to students. Points that were raised included how families would be protected against theft, loss or damage to computers that students in middle school and high school could eventually begin taking home with them. A mother also asked how the district would help parents control students’ access to websites and online information.
Among other responses, officials said inexpensive insurance for school-issued computers would be offered to families, and details about technology access, use and the type of equipment that will be acquired will become clearer as the technology plan unfolds over the levy’s four-year period.
“We’re asking for a little bit of faith,” Siegel said. “If we get this money, we’ll do this right.”
Audience members agreed that students need to be technology-literate in order to compete in the workforce, as noted by Jay Brower, the district’s community connections director
“Kids from other states will get the jobs our kids can’t if they don’t have access to technology,” Brower said.
Ballots for the election will be mailed Jan. 24 by the Pierce County elections department to voters. Voting will end Feb. 11.