Modesto, Calif., City Schools Inflicted with Blue Screens of Death

One teacher complained that the lack of working computers robs students of practice time typing, and the tiny screens make it impossible to do many of the test tasks.

by Nan Austin, The Modesto Bee / November 12, 2015 0

(TNS) -- Technical glitches hamper classroom work on a daily basis at some elementary schools, Modesto City Schools teachers told trustees in impassioned speeches that moved the board to wait on authorizing an unrelated $7 million contract to repair and replace high school computers.

Elementary teachers vented their disgust with cutting-edge computers that crash again and again as young students try to use them as Modesto City Schools trustees debated contracts to buy other technology.

“These units do not work. We are in crisis mode,” said Cindy Bender, a teacher at Fremont Elementary. “The children sit and cry because they don’t work.”

District head of technology Cindy Minter said the problems were not necessarily with the devices, but with Wi-Fi connection problems as Modesto works school by school to beef up its bandwidth. About five schools are still battling computer outages that tech support is still unraveling, she said.

But teachers complained that the small Panasonic tablet-computer devices the district bought en masse this year could not take the inexpert use of small children, with one saying half the devices in the classroom set she shares with other classes did not function.

The lack of working computers robs students of practice time typing, and the tiny screens make it impossible to do many of the test tasks, said Jennifer Ollar, a computer teacher at Beard Elementary.

“We get the blue screen of death. You can’t do a thing with it!” said Rose Avenue Elementary teacher Carrie Patino. “We’ve had problems beyond problems.”

Calling the $2.2 million purchase of the 3,800 devices “a tech disaster,” teacher union spokesman Yaser Herrera said the district allows only token teacher input in choosing devices.

Herrera, Modesto Teachers Association executive director, advised trustees not to move forward with large tech contracts before contract wording is worked out to allow its use. The MTA declared an impasse in negotiations for the 2015-16 contract Nov. 3. It has made a number of formal protests of Modesto City Schools actions, saying they bypassed required negotiation.

The evident difficulties struck a chord with trustees.

Money for technology has been set aside from dollars allocated by community priorities and, as budgeted, is not available for employee raises.

“I will not vote for any technology until the problems we have heard of tonight have been solved,” said board Vice President Steve Grenbeaux.

“It’s raised some serious concerns in my mind. I know technology ages quickly,” said trustee Cindy Marks. “Now we’ve had two decisions and two products that were not as effective as I’d hoped.”

But Marks eventually voted for both tech contracts up for a voteat Monday’s board meeting: a $7 million deal to repair and replace HP computers at high schools, and what is called a piggyback contract, joining with other districts to get better deals, for up to $3 million.

Neither deal had anything to do with the devices reviled by the teacher speakers, Minter said. The $7 million contract was approved in June but had to come back to the board because HP split its company, voiding the earlier contract, she explained.

“We need to maintain these (HP) devices. They are very important for the special programs we have in those high schools,” said board President Amy Neumann before the votes.

Still, the $7 million deal for high school tech was defeated in a 3-3 tie vote. Trustees Marks, Neumann and Sue Zwahlen voted for the contract. Student member Riley Noland cast his advisory vote against the deal, joining Grenbeaux, Desirée Romo and David Allan.

Grenbeaux was the lone dissenter in the 5-1 vote for the up-to $3 million contract.

The board is one member down until its December meeting because of the resignation of Jordan Dickson. John Walker, newly elected to the board, will fill the vacant seat, joining returning trustees Neumann and Grenbeaux at the table.

©2015 The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.