Fairfax County schools’ efforts to replace aging technology are being hampered by budget cuts, according to a report recently released by the school system.
The school system strives to replace computers on a five-year cycle, but 29 percent of its computers are more than 5 years old, according to the annual technology report.
Keeping pace with that goal has proved impossible, said Maribeth Luftglass, the chief information officer for Fairfax County public schools. To replace all 155,000 computers in the school system every five years, the school system would need $21.7 million annually, a plan the report calls “cost prohibitive.”
Next school year, this pie-in-the-sky goal will move further out of reach. The school system’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 slashes funding for replacement equipment by $2 million.
Cutting the equipment replacement budget by nearly a third from this year leaves a pool of $4.3 million. That money goes toward replacing not just computers but also equipment for custodial work, such as lawn mowers and vacuum cleaners, and equipment for physical education, music and art classes, among other things, leaving just a fraction for technology.
The $2 million cut to equipment replacement funding is packaged in the proposed budget as part of a $13.4 million reduction to the school system’s “central support,” or administrative offices. According to Luftglass, this shows how even administrative cuts can reach the classroom. Of the school system’s computers, 92 percent - 144,000 computers - are in schools.
Due to the limited and dwindling budget, the Department of Information Technology has focused its money where it is most needed, Luftglass said.
For example, last year 37 percent of the computers in elementary schools were more than 5 years old, considered “limited” (6-10 years old) or “legacy” (more than 11 years old) devices in the parlance of the school system’s technology report. This year, thanks to newly replaced computers, older units are down to 28 percent of the total in elementary schools.
The story is reversed for high schools. Last year, 28 percent of computers in county high schools were more than 5 years old. This year, that number is up to 37 percent. In individual schools, the percentage of older devices ranges from the low end - 20 percent at Langley and 29 percent at Falls Church - up to nearly half a school’s supply - 47 percent at West Springfield.
“We’re trying to keep things in maintenance mode, which means doing less of our technology refresh,” Luftglass said. “You can do that for a little while, but if you do that for too long you start having some pretty significant impacts.”
With the funding it does have for technology, the school system tries to focus on the classroom. For example, the laptops provided to all teachers receive the top priority for replacement.
“Overall, we try to do things that would minimize the impact on teachers and students,” Luftglass said. “That’s been our priority with the limited refresh money that we’ve had. But we’re still cutting and cutting, and these cuts are going to start really hurting.”