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New London-Spicer, Minn., Schools seeking citizen input on $1.5M levy for technology

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NEW LONDON -- A task force of citizens meets tonight in New London to serve as the voice of the community on a $1.5 million operating levy that will be put to New London-Spicer School District voters in a special election Nov. 8.

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The group will hear details about how money from the levy would be used to make overdue improvements to the technology infrastructure in the district's classrooms, and help school officials gauge public sentiment about conducting a referendum on the levy during a time when the economy has made voters averse to tax increases.

The group will also provide input on how best to communicate with voters the facts about the finances of the three-year levy, what the money would buy and how it would impact student education, said Superintendent Paul Carlson.

Given the fast-changing world of technology, explaining the district's needs and how new revenue could help meet those needs in easy-to-understand terminology to voters could be challenging.

Board Chairman Robert Moller has easy words for the district's current technology network and bank of computers.

"We're outdated," Moller said

"We're limping along," Carlson said, adding that when the high school was built, its technology was state-of-the-art. But that was 17 years ago, in 1994, and much has changed since then.

More disturbing than the slow, overloaded computers and technology network is the fact that NLS students are not keeping pace when it comes to learning how to use tools of technology that are becoming daily necessities in education and careers, Carlson said.

"Our students are falling behind," Moller said. "That's so unfair to our kids."

If the $1.5 million levy is approved, taxpayers would provide $500,000 in new revenue every year for three years. The money would be used for multifaceted technology improvements that would directly affect students' education, Moller said.

One of those improvements is classroom amplification, where teachers use a wireless microphone to increase their speaking volume in the classroom. It's typically used in classrooms to assist students with hearing impairments. Because studies show all students benefit if they can hear the teacher better, funds would be used to install amplification systems in every classroom, Carlson said.

The district would also purchase more smart boards that allow students and teachers to interact with curriculum that's put "at their fingertips," Carlson said.

The district has used grant money to purchase about four smart boards a year and currently has 31. If the levy is approved, they would purchase 60 additional smart boards over the course of the three-year period.

Plans also include the purchase of portable carts with iPad2s. The school would not purchase enough iPads for every student, but every student would have access to iPads during the school day, which will "increase student achievement and impact the classroom," Carlson said.

Funds could also be used for technology support staff and staff development to make sure teachers know how to use the new equipment and how to incorporate it into the curriculum and classroom.

In recent years NLS has been splitting funds between technology and maintenance repairs. The end result is that both areas have fallen behind, Carlson said.

If special levy funds are available for technology, other revenue can be used to catch up on projects that have been put on the back burner for years, including roof and parking lot repairs, Carlson said.

The district is required by law to provide an informational brochure to residents that includes facts about the proposed levy and how much individual taxes would be increased during the three years.

Public informational meetings will also be held to explain the levy and the proposed technology improvements.

The Minnesota Department of Education previously determined the technology improvement project is "educationally and economically advisable," which gave the district the green light to seek voter approval for the capital project.

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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