SMART Boards, iPads and robotics programs are becoming as common in suburban schools as pencils, notebooks and calculators, but technology -- and how much should be spent on it -- can be a divisive topic in education.
Six candidates running for four seats on the Lombard Elementary District 44 school board all say they value appropriate technology in the district's seven schools. But the candidates offer different perspectives about the need for productive use of the technology, the importance of maintaining human interaction and the need for a cost-benefit analysis of all new technological purchases.
Incumbents Gayle Kankovsky, Kristina Lynch and John Schroder are seeking re-election to 4-year terms against challengers Tony DelAlcazar, Scott Jenkins and Courtney Simek. Board President Becky Kirsh is not running again. The top four vote-getters in the April 9 election will claim the open seats.
District 44 is in the second year of a three-year technology plan that calls for all sixth-grade students at Westlake Middle School to be given personal laptops in each of the next two years.
The plan begins with training for teachers and replacement of desktops in 10 computer labs this year. It also includes gradual increases in the number of iPads to be shared by kindergarten through second-grade students and laptops to be shared by students in higher grades.
Implementing the plan is projected to cost $595,400 this year and $697,000 next year.
Schroder, a 73-year-old retired financial analyst, said the district needs to be careful with technology costs, which he said equate to the salaries and benefits of between eight and 10 teachers a year.
"I don't think we can afford for a while to continue at that rate," he said. "We've spent an awful lot of money ... I think we've gone a little overboard."
Schroder, who has been a board member since 1981, said teachers must prove students will use technology as a tool and not for games.
Kankovsky, who has been on the board for eight years, also said the district needs to keep close watch over costs because of uncertainty about future state funding.
"I'm sure they could use more (technology), but we also have to watch out for the taxpayer, too," said Kankovsky, a 61-year-old administrative assistant.
Lynch, also an incumbent, said she is satisfied with the technology plan, especially because its inclusion of a year for teacher training will help instructors get the best use out of more laptops and iPads soon to be available.
"I think we're going to get more effective teaching and more out of the money that we're spending with the training," said Lynch, a 42-year-old school psychologist.
Newcomer Jenkins works in technology as a pre-sales system consultant for Dell software. He said increased spending on technology is a positive as long as the district sees returns on its investment, seeks cost savings in other areas and develops a responsible plan to keep students on task -- away from inappropriate Internet material and games -- while using school computers.
"As we spend more on technology, I'm hoping that we get savings out of less hard copies and textbooks and materials," said Jenkins, 40. "The way teachers are using laptops and computers now I think is really good. The teacher is getting more of a variety of teaching done in a shorter time; it's more efficient."
DelAlcazar, a 44-year-old high school science teacher seeking a seat for the first time, said future technology purchases should be studied by weighing the cost of the new products against the educational benefits for students. Simple tasks should continue to be done the pen-and-paper way if it's cheaper, he said, allowing technology to take over when it can help students visualize complex concepts.
"I think we should be keeping abreast of what technology is appropriate in classrooms but yet keeping an eye out for situations where that technology might not be available to students when they get home," DelAlcazar said.
While some students lack home access to technology, newcomer Courtney Simek said the district needs to be mindful that many spend too much time on computers, both at home and at school.
"It's amazing how much time these children are sitting in front of a screen. I'm not saying there's no value to having the technology in the classroom; I agree that it's important, but it certainly has to be balanced," said Simek, a 30-year-old program manager for the nonprofit Teen Parent Connection in Glen Ellyn. "We cannot eliminate the importance of that peer-to-peer conversation or that student-to-teacher relationship that is absolutely vital, and is something that you're not going to find on an iPad."