"The problem now is with our software upgrades," says Ann Arbor Public Schools spokeswoman Liz Margolis. "These computers don't support the new software."
The AAPS has 8,000 or so computers, mostly Apple Macs. Students use them for everything from reading programs in elementary school to sophisticated research projects in high school. Now, however, a change Apple made six years ago is catching up with the district. The current versions of Microsoft Word and Excel, among others, won't run on Macs built before 2006.
If voters approve a $45.8 million, ten-year technology bond on the May 8 ballot, most of the money will be spent in three phases to replace outdated computers and other classroom technology. Almost all of the rest will finance urgent upgrades to the infrastructure that connects them to one other and to the Internet.
Apple shares the blame for that problem, too: in January 2011, Margolis says, so many students returned from Christmas break carrying a new "hand-held something" that "the infrastructure to support the wireless [network] was overloaded." The strain of supporting so many iPhones and iPads crashed the district's public WiFi network. "It took perhaps a few weeks to reach a temporary solution, which is still in place."
With nothing else on the ballot except a special county commission election in Pittsfield's District 7, volunteers on the Ann Arbor Citizens Millage Committee know that they have to make their case to the small number of voters who are likely to turn out. AACMC leader Donna Lasinski says that apart from a mailing or two, committee members are focusing their efforts on PTO meetings, where they're explaining the millage and encouraging parents to vote.
The half-mill tax would cost the owner of a typical $200,000 house $50 per year. Some of the improvements are so essential that the district will go ahead with them even if the millage fails, says Margolis. But then "the dollars will have to come out of the general operating fund ... [which] will have direct impact on the delivery of curriculum to students." The district is already anticipating a $16 million shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year, with modest growth in state funding more than offset by higher contributions to the state teacher pension system.
In healthier economic times the AACMC might already be planning its victory night party. But in a state still waking from its economic nightmare, says outgoing teachers union president Brit Satchwell, "I think it will be tight."
[Originally published in May, 2012.]
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