Chalkboard to net books at Utah schools

Aug 27 2011 - 5:23pm

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(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Cody Saunders works on his school provided  computer at Davis School District’s new Centennial Junior High School in Kaysville on Wednesday.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Cody Saunders works on his school provided  computer at Davis School District’s new Centennial Junior High School in Kaysville on Wednesday.

Future schools in the Top of Utah, new and remodeled, will accommodate more than just students.

Technology in all its forms is as much a part of the classroom today as chalk and chalkboards were 40 years ago.

But funding to plug students into the future is connected to the strength of the state and local economies, officials say.

Ogden School District, like other districts, plans to remodel in order to accommodate the increasing need for technology in many of its schools, but it is dependent on funding, said Gary Reed, who retired last spring as district director of support services.

"Any future work depends on several things, including the economy," he said. "When the economy is stronger, we receive better funding from the Legislature."

When the economy is strong, more companies are hiring, which increases the amount of income tax the state receives and adds funding for schools. That funding is generally used for the weighted pupil unit, which districts use to pay for salaries, classroom materials and equipment.

Districts like Ogden are now trying to find funding to remodel or rebuild or start new construction, including asking voters to approve property tax levies and bond issues.

One of the main concerns is retrofitting older schools to accommodate technology.

"The older elementary schools were built when there was not a great demand for electrical appliances in schools," Reed said.

In older schools, like Wasatch Elementary in Clearfield, most classrooms may have only one electrical outlet in the back of the room, said Gary Payne, Davis School District's administrator of facilities, management and planning.

One electrical outlet was fine when teachers used only an overhead projector and transparencies, he said.

But today's classrooms need additional outlets, wiring and cables to keep students connected.

Those new classrooms are either remodels or in new schools.

Davis School District has added at least one new school every year since 1999, when the population of the county began to boom. It will continue to build new schools as people move into areas that once housed crops and pastures, not kids, Payne said.

Even with the additional buildings, districts have found ways to keep utility bills constant. Roofs are insulated better and windows are more efficient, which make buildings more efficient in use of electricity and heat.

Still, even though improvements are made with the buildings, there comes a time when they need more than just a tweak here or there.

Weber School District officials have agreed that four of its six high schools, two of its 10 junior highs and several elementary schools need to be remodeled or replaced because the schools are no longer able to meet the needs of 21st-century students, said Michael Jacobsen, who retired as superintendent at the end of the last school year.

Jacobsen said the Weber district has attempted to keep equipment and buildings from "getting too old or worn out," but too many times, things need to be repaired or replaced all at the same time.

District officials are not just looking at brick and mortar for classrooms, but also at the Internet for the growing number of students who want to take online courses.

Jacobsen said: "It frees up space and helps students who want to free up space on their schedule for other classes, like orchestra or choir."

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