Wednesday, November 27, 2002


There's been a hubbub in Omaha lately over a report that the Omaha Public Schools was about to buy 1,000 computers for $1.9 million, or $1,900 apiece, which is considerably more expensive than computers used by working stiffs in the grownup world outside the Nonsense Industry, our public schools.

Just kidding: computers are not nonsense, not by a long shot. But they have significant direct and indirect costs to taxpayers, and this situation just points that out.

Actually, OPS has since clarified the proposed purchase. Turns out there are "about" 1,400 computers involved, most of them in the $700 to $1,000 range, although there were 22 laptops with $3,000 pricetags.

But the situation spotlights the big bucks going for technology these days, to the consternation of those who think it is foolish to be putting $3,000 laptops into the laps of students who can't even write a single declarative sentence without a boo-boo. What they need is LOW technology: paper, pencil and elbow grease.

Schools also have a rather sorry track record about explaining their technology purchases and practices to parents and the public. Years ago, when we had our children in an OPS school, we were told that they were having "computer class" three times a week. Our chests swelled with pride. Well, one day, I came in to class to bring cupcakes or whatever. I saw a classroom full of children, including my daughter, with photocopies of a computer keyboard on their desks. There were three -- count 'em -- three kids up front, sitting at actual computers, while the tech teacher taught them. Everybody else was just supposed to be following along on the photocopies. O . . . K. It was the dumbest thing I had ever seen. Turns out that's all they said they could afford. We were mad, thought that was deceptive after having been described as "computer class," wondered what ELSE they said they were teaching that was like that -- kids were studying "history papers" that turned out to be "yesterday's paper towels"?!? -- and that was one reason we left OPS.

So when you are evaluating that $1.9 million they say they are spending on "computers," make sure to find out two things: 1) how much of it is going to be used by students and how much by staff and 2) how tall the stack of BOOKS would be that that $1.9 million COULD have purchased and actually TAUGHT kids something.

According to OPS board member Dick Galusha, besides the computers, the bid includes a number of peripherals:

wireless labs for PC and Apples
bay carts
docking carts
Airport base stations
software PLUS
Graphic Artists Computers
Apple OSX Servers
Dell Servers
H.P. LaserJet Printers for Apples
H.P. LaserJet Printers for PCs
NEC VT650XGA LCD Projectors
Philips LC3131 SUGALCD Projectors
Dell server racks
Huntel for Mitel Super Set Inventory Communication
System for portables from Anixter
MicroWarehouse switches and media converters
Voice Messaging System from Gazelle

Are you beginning to see the hidden, indirect costs . . . and why $1.9 million in more spending, in public school, does not connect to $1.9 million worth of more learning for kids? That is, unless their music class is going to be studying "voice messaging."


For future reference: Galushua, chairperson of the OPS board's finance committee, urges the public to call the Board of Education office at 557-2101 or contact him at galusha@cox.net with specific concerns or questions about OPS finances. He also is pushing for putting all Board of Education business on www.ops.org, which now, like most school district websites, contains mostly worthless, sketchy information.

Gee: with all the millions taxpayers have invested in technology for OPS, you'd think posting solid financial information, including their checkbook, on the web would have occurred to them before this. Fiscal accountability, and all that.

Ohhh, welllll. :>)

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