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Published: Tuesday, 7/13/2004

Last stop for old computers is lab at Bedford Junior High

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TEMPERANCE There is a room in the Bedford Junior High School where teenagers are encouraged to beat on the dying their young fingers pecking and poking in rhythm until the last flicker of light disappears.

And when that happens, Doug Kohler or one of his assistants in the district s Information Technology department happily wheels in a new victim.

Like an electronic hospice center, the Junior High School s

keyboarding laboratory is the place where Bedford s 1,800 computers go to die the last stop in a life cycle made possible

by the only county-wide technology millage ever passed in Michigan.

Now, seven years after voters approved that 1-mill levy, school

districts across Monroe County are trying to answer the question

of what to do with thousands of desktop and laptop computers

that have outlived their useful lives.

We find uses for everything, said Mr. Kohler.

The district is in the middle of an upgrade of all the desktop

computers at Temperance Road and Douglas Road elementaries,

sending scores of old computers down the life cycle to their next

stop, such as the keyboarding lab.

The keyboarding [program] doesn t take a lot of [processing]

power to run, explained Mr. Kohler. And the rows and rows of old laptops with small keyboards seem to work out pretty well. The kids at that age have smaller hands, Mr. Kohler said.

Passed by county voters in 1997 and renewed in 2001, the

county-wide technology levy is the only type of extra operating

levy allowed under the laws governing how Michigan funds

its schools.

And in the decade since voters passed Proposal A in Michigan

and switched the majority of state education funding from

property to sales taxes, Monroe County remains the only county-

wide technology levy to have ever passed.

There are a lot of things that we re using our technology for

now, things like video streaming and on-line activities, explained

Don Spencer, superintendent of the Monroe County Intermediate School District.

Those types of advanced functions just don t work on many

of the computers that were fi rst purchased by school districts

four to six years ago.

When the ISD s computers can t keep up, they get bumped down to a lesser station, explained Neil Price, the ISD s technology manager.

And when no use can be found, the ISD either takes them apart

for parts, sells them off to other, less fortunate schools elsewhere

in the state, or recycles them.

We re just using them wherever they possibly can be used,

Mr. Price said.

Mr. Spencer said the technology levy brought in a total of $4,887,786.89 in 2003. The money is distributed to the ISD s member school districts on a per-pupil basis, with the schools receiving just under $200 per student to pay for everything from desktops and software to scanners and routers.

Individual districts take different approaches to deal with derelict computers and electronic equipment. Almost all say they take apart old machines for parts to keep others running. Some put old machines up for bid, or auction them off online, to raise money

for newer equipment. Still other districts contract with computer

recycling fi rms that not only remove usable parts, but strip

the computers and monitors of valuable materials.

Some of them, as we replace them and if they re still usable,

we re moving them into the classrooms, as extra machines,

Mason Superintendent Marlene Mills said. We reuse things until they

just are junk, said Jon White, Bedford s interim superintendent.

We re extremely concerned about being good stewards of the public s money, so we ll use and reuse these computers until they absolutely have no public value.



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