BOE puts off new computers for Norwalk schools in favor of Wi-Fi

NORWALK, Conn. – A plan to delay buying new computers for Norwalk Public Schools in favor of beginning the project to install Wi-Fi was approved Tuesday evening by the Board of Education.

The switch was inspired by the city’s decision to give the board less money than it requested in the 2013-2014 capital budget. With a deadline looming in the transition to Common Core State Standards, school administrators said they felt that this was the best thing to do.

The board requested $2.7 million from the city in 2013-2014 capital budget funding but was only allocated $2.1 million. Eliminating the purchase of 511 computers this year – a purchase authorized in the 2012-2013 capital budget – frees up $300,000 to begin the $770,000 Wi-Fi installation. A surplus of $178,202 in capital funding from 2011-2012 will also go to the Wi-Fi project, which must be done by the end of the next school year.

The board will still buy 203 new computers. There are 4,000 computers in the district, Chief Operating Officer Elio Longo said.

Technology Director Robert Polselli played down the non-functioning computers in an email Wednesday.

“The numbers of computers that are non-working changes on a daily basis but all machines are repaired on a daily basis by technicians on 1 to 3 days (typically),” he said. “On any given day, we may have a few to a dozen, but the team repairs as reported. There are, however, machines that require upgrade and I’ll have a report run to determine that number.”

BOE Chairman Mike Lyons expressed regret at having to put off the purchases.

“What we continuously find ourselves trying to do here is get things done in a very tight funding environment,” he said. “We’re making tradeoffs here and we wish we didn’t have to tradeoff anything, but I think the wireless is the way of the future. … I think this is a good use of limited funds.”

The Wi-Fi is needed for the transition to Common Core State Standards, a state-mandated transition to a national benchmarks for educational standards, board members said at a recent meeting of the Finance Committee.


36 responses to “BOE puts off new computers for Norwalk schools in favor of Wi-Fi”

  1. LWitherspoon

    Can anyone explain how and why Wi-Fi is a part of the Common Core? Don’t the school computers already all have hard-wired internet access?

  2. Bryan Meek

    @LW. The exact kind of thing I am talking about when I say we throw good money after bad. What they aren’t telling you is that this type of equipment goes obsolete fairly quickly and this will end up being a recurring expense. This is something the NPS has zero business managing. It should be outsourced and someone in Hartford should really be asking what this has to do with education delivery. My guess this that down the road we equip our children with tablets, but nothing really makes any sense here. Verizon, AT&T, Cablevision already provide wireless service in the city. Why do we need to build and maintain our own infrastructure for this? Good money, bad idea.

  3. Tablets were mentioned at the committee meeting, when a member questioned what good it would do to have Wi-Fi if the kids didn’t have computers to use them. The response was that there was a deadline for the Wi-Fi and it would be better to wait to buy tablets anyway, as they will be out of date if they are bought now.
    They say they need these things for Common Core testing.

  4. LWitherspoon

    Thanks Nancy and… Wow. So we need to buy tablets plus WiFi just to test whether or not students are learning?
    One has to wonder what critical pieces of the Common Core can’t be tested with old-fashioned paper and pencil tests, and why. Is there any evidence from other schools demonstrating that spending all this money will yield results?
    I wonder what the Red Apples think about all this.

  5. Bryan Meek

    Tablets are wonderful learning tools, but absolutely no where near replacing the prowess of a PC. If this is typical of what common core has in store for us, should we be a little more concerned? As I recall it seems to have the same level of enthusiasm as did NCLB before that was implemented.
    This topic and conversation makes me wonder how Newton could possibly have invented calculus when all he had was ink and parchment paper. How could Ben Franklin possibly have invented all the things he did when his formal education came from books that were donated to him. Forget a few outliers and geniuses, how is it possible that there are several developed nations with higher literacy rates than ours, yet we are spending more per pupil than their per capita incomes are? I am telling you we are wasting education dollars that should be spent on educating, not filling someone’s fancy idea of having technology for technology’s sake.

  6. Tim T

    Actually you are incorrect on 2 points
    “Tablets are wonderful learning tools, but absolutely nowhere near replacing the prowess of a PC”
    Anyone that knows anything about modern technology is in agreement that the days of the PC are over and tablets are the new PC.
    “What they aren’t telling you is that this type of equipment goes obsolete fairly quickly and this will end up being a recurring expense”
    I assume you are speaking of Wi-Fi technology. I have news for you Wi-Fi has and will remain the same for years. If you are referring to what hooks up to the Wi-Fi as in tablets vs. PC yes as I stated above that will change. However the tablets will continue to change as technology advances. If you are suggesting waiting we will be waiting forever. Wilton and other area towns have all been using tablets for years. Norwalk on the other hand is using windows xp
    This cost could be funded easily if we stop the police overtime and stop hiring consultants at 500 per day PROBLEM SOLVED.

  7. David

    First of all, Tim pretty much nailed it – PC’s are ever heading towards a niche market. They’ll be used by those that need extreme computing power like CAD designers, Computer Programmers, etc.

    In order to understand the technology portion of Common Core you have to understand that testing is changing. It’s not longer the paper test where you fill in a bubble, where everyone takes the same test at the same time, for the same length of time and is given a grade from 0 to 100. It’s been totally reworked. I suggest you take some time to research the changes in this regard.

    Students need constant access to on-line learning and assessment modules. To have students file into rooms with stationary computers and have them conduct online learning and assessments at PC’s is, at best, a 2002 solution.

    The world is changing, the technology is changing and we NEED to give our students access to that technology. If we don’t, they’ll be left behind, with no chance to compete in tomorrows labor market.

    THAT is investment, not a waste of money.

  8. Bryan Meek

    Computational power of a PC is ten fold for what tablets are priced at now. WIFI international standards are changing about every two years. You might care about this, if you care about the city’s budget.

  9. Mr Norwalk Ct

    Clearly Mr. Meek’s area of expertise is not technology..

  10. Bryan Meek

    Facts are stubborn things. Like the fact you can buy a notebook PC with 8GB of RAM and multicore processors for the same price as an IPAD with a very small fraction of that. And if you don’t understand that basic concept, I won’t bother going into details about the history of IEEE 802 wireless protocols. Bottom line is there is more bang for our buck in other areas than our current plan. But if I were to listen to Mr. Norwalk, I suppose I should just surrender my MBA in technology from the top school I earned it at and spend every last red cent the city has on overpriced tech that is more fashionable then functional.

  11. Bryan Meek

    In full disclosure, I work for one of the largest technology companies on the planet. There are 100s of thousands users for my products most of them in finance. I work with a global development team of over 200 engineers. Not one of them codes on a tablet. Do we have them? For email, browsing, games, YES. Do we do heavy coding and design on them, NO. Would tablets be nice for our children, Yes. Will it develop job skills they can take right to the market? Not even close yet.

  12. David

    Bryan, I would expect someone with a deep technology background to present some better critical thinking on the matter.

    Online learning and assessment is a REQUIREMENT of implementing Common Core. It’s not a nice to have. It’s a requirement.

    I’m sure you are 100% correct, none of YOUR engineers use tablets for their jobs. I’m sure none of them use notebooks either. The students and teachers simply WILL NOT NEED the same processing power that your engineers need. You’re right, they could get cheaper notebooks like a Chromebook for about $200 each. They could get something like a Kindle Fire for about $150 each. Add in extended warranties, maintenance, etc, of course, as needs to be done. That purchase hasn’t happened yet. The schools DO have computer labs that are for a totally different purpose. The choice the BOE is forced to make, because of budget constraints, is to maintain PC’s used for one purpose, or invest in WiFi, for another purpose.

    If we made EVERY decision based on the fact that technology will be better in a few years, then we’d buy NO technology. The WiFi we invest in today will suffice for years to come. It’s a capital cost, however, so the understanding is that it has a shelf life and WILL require further investment down the road. Does your company have WiFi, or are they waiting for the next evolution in the standard, before implementing that?

    As with other conversation threads you’ve been involved in, it starts with explaining a fundamental and delves into the minutia of one particular aspect of that discussion.

    This conversation started out with questioning the need for WiFi and tablets when schools already have PC’s. Are we still questioning this as a part of “education delivery” as you put it? Or have we accepted that and we’re talking about the implementation?

  13. Bryan Meek

    Here we go already David. We have to do it because it is required first and think about what would be best for children second. $3/4 of a million dollars should be spent on necessities first and luxuries second. Even if it were a necessity, why on earth would we be equipping our buildings instead of outsourcing this? What is the cost of the staff to maintain and update? What are the recurring expenses we can expect? The fact that none of this is mentioned tells you NPS has no business managing this itself.

  14. Tim T

    You make excellent points. If we were to follow Bryan’s direction the kids would still be using IBM typewrites as how dare we invest in our children as the technology may become obsolete in 10 years. WOW I guess its time the schools replace windows xp that they are now using…What do you think Bryan is that ok with you?

  15. Bryan Meek

    Tim must not have had basic math in school. For the money we are spending on WIFI, we could fit the schools out with 1000+ computers running Windows 7 or 8. Instead if we follow Tim, we get WIFI infrastructure that will need to be replaced before we can even leverage enough tablets to make a difference. The schools can barely manage light bulbs, and yet he thinks they can handle this.

  16. Tim T

    Bryan Meek
    Your statement of “WIFI infrastructure that will need to be replaced before we can even leverage enough tablets to make a difference.” is factually incorrect. WIFI infrastructure does not become obsolete as quickly as other forms of technology. The WIFI infrastructure installed today will be good for 10 plus years. Are you saying that it will take the school system 10 plus years to upgrade from windows XP to tablets?

  17. David

    Why are we still talking about PC’s?

    OK, look, Bryan, it’s not hard, please try to follow along:

    Every student needs to have access to online course-ware on a consistent basis. The best, cheapest, way to do that is to use mobile computing – a tablet or notebook. In order to have mobile computing you need to have a robust WiFi solution.

    The WiFi infrastructure was always going to be put in place, but due to the changing budget situation (i.e. less of it) the BOE has moved that part forward from next year to this year.

    We don’t NEED 1000 PC’s. We’re not getting 1000 PC’s. With any luck the BOE will buy something like a Chromebook and ditch the need for PC’s in schools. I mean, what are you still talking about PC’s for?

  18. Bryan Meek

    David. We aren’t buying chrome books. We are spending almost 50,000 per building for wifi. They already have internet and for some reason it is going to cost us 50k per building to drop in a few routers and switches you can pick up for a few hundred at CDW. Which goes back to my point that NPS has no business managing this. Wifi hardware has a 2 to 4 year useful life in a real enterprise. You don’t have to be connected 24×7 to download books to an e-reader so it isn’t clear what the extent of the plan is for wifi. Let’s see the budget for these tablets. The on going budget to replace lost, stolen, and damaged ones and how that might possibly be offset on textbooks savings. Look, I’d like every child to have the best tools available. I’d like them to have electron microscopes too, but the school system can not be continually run with a blank check approach.

  19. David

    Bryan, I think it’s about time you went out and found out about the specifics of the plan and THEN punch holes in it, because right now you’re just speculating. It seems like you are the person who knows the LEAST about what’s going on with Common Core, here. Get informed and then come back with some action items. There’s obviously nothing else to discuss until you’ve done that.

  20. Bryan Meek

    Whatever. Let’s just make it all up as we go along and who cares because the taxpayers have an endless pocketbook, right? If you trust this state to get things right, you haven’t really been paying attention now have you? http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/cwp/view.asp?a=2618&q=322592

  21. Steve Colarossi

    I had asked about the basis for the WiFi costs at a recent Finance Committee meeting. I was told that the demand on the WiFi network necessitates a robust system which is compounded because of the way that many of our schools are designed. The cost includes the need for heavy-duty equipment.

  22. Bryan Meek

    I guess it is too much for the supporters of this wifi initiative to point out where in the CCSC the mandates, protocols, and requirements are listed for it. I dare anyone to find them anywhere from the state or fed’s web pages on the curriculum project. If they want more supporters for their blank check requests, I’d suggest they publish their plans.

  23. David

    Really, Bryan, it’s time for you to do your own thinking at this stage. I laid out how simple it is a few posts back. Use your MBA, your 250 college credits and your decades of experience in technology to do some critical thinking on this one, yeah? Perhaps you could run this past your 200 engineers, I’m sure one of them could help.

    You’ve made it clear you think WiFi in the schools in support of the Common Core initiative is a waste of money. Now it’s time to propose an alternative. (You haven’t actually said that Common Core is a waste of money, what is your position on that?)

    Here’s the hard part: The alternative you propose HAS to fit within the requirements for continuous assessment and on-line learning modules required for Common Core.

    Now, you’ll probably need to learn about Common Core, and by “learn”, I don’t just mean post a link to a web site. I don’t mean Wikipedia, either. Perhaps attend some meetings on the subject? Perhaps talk to the people within Norwalk who are making this a reality? How about you find out what is actually in the WiFi proposal, and why it goes beyond a couple of $50 wireless routers? (oh, and by the way, for the record, I’ve already done this research for myself 😉

    So, how about we make that your next post on this subject? OK? Shouldn’t be too much trouble for a technology pro like you, right?


  24. Bryan Meek

    David, since you are so enlightened please point me to the standards set forth by Common Core for wireless. You can’t. They don’t publish it. We are supposed to take a leap of faith on some tech proposal and the arbiters of this good idea can’t even be bothered to put it in writing on their websites or worse they aren’t capable. That isn’t a good start.
    The core curricula components where we do have transparency is a good start and I’m sure there are good people working on expanding it, but given our history with tech and tech spending by NPS you would be foolish not to be somewhat skeptical before we spend $2.25 million as outlined by NPS. There is no mention of on going maintenance, repairs, replacements, upgrades, etc…. No mention why there aren’t alternative proposals to have a wireless provider manage it and no mention of even trying to solicit used tablets from donors. Just, spend, spend, spend and figure it out later. No thanks and don’t bother trying to bait me with your snide comments. That doesn’t work with me so save your breath.

  25. David

    Bryan, I’m not baiting you, I’m calling you out.

    Guys you like you are dime a dozen – all piss and vinegar until it’s time to come up with an alternative, and then…silence. You’ve offered nothing. All you say is that this is a waste of money – but you have no alternative for the infrastructure side of Common Core implementation.

    That’s because you don’t have a plan. Of all the people who commented on this story, YOU are the least informed about common core. You just don’t know what you’re talking about.

    And it shows, quite frankly. Any self-respecting person who had aspirations to run for the Board of Education would have an answer to this very question. You don’t.

    So, c’mon. It’s put-up-or-shut-up time. I’m calling you out here.

    Outline your alternative. And please, be SURE to use all of that Technology experience you have to dazzle us!

  26. Steve Colarossi

    This issue had been discussed at a recent Board of Education Finance Committee meeting. Based upon the input from Supt. Daddona, and the reports of the Technology Department, it was felt that having full wireless capability that could reach all of the students was critical.
    Because we were dealing with a required modification to the school department’s capital request (necessitated when the amount which had been initially requested was reduced), the matter before the BoE was simply whether or not the change should be submitted.
    The Common Core State Standards sets forth very precise and sequenced benchmarks that students must attain. Therefore, there is a need for on-going assessments (these are more than the simple “take out a piece of notebook paper, because we’re having a quiz” that have been used in the past– and that I used to assess my students’ progress when I was a teacher). There are a number of programs which use wireless technology in classrooms to facilitate teachers getting instant feedback, as well as the time it takes students to respond. These techniques assist teachers in modifying lesson plans and differentiating the instruction to the students.
    When I specifically asked about the cost, I was told that the design of many our school buildings requires multiple wireless hubs. Therefore, the cost for the equipment increases more than a mere calculation of the square footage of each school might suggest.

  27. Bryan Meek

    David, or whoever you are. You still can’t lay out the specifications and standards. You expect the taxpayers to fork over $770k dollars for something without a plan. Let’s see the list of equipment and who determined that is what was needed. If these buildings are all hard wired for internet, then we only need to install access points at drops where the wifi is to be accessed. Maybe you’d need 10 of these for NHS alone at $1500 a pop. So where is the extra money being spent. Can we at least have a detailed plan put forward by someone who wasn’t caught misappropriating money for the city? Is that too much to ask?

  28. David

    “David, or whoever you are.” LOL.

    You know, for someone with decades of vast technology experience, and aspirations to run for the BOE, you’ve shown an amazing lack of ability to think critically on this matter.

    You’ve made a lot of assumptions – that there is no plan, that all schools are hardwired for Internet, that the bandwidth is sufficient for the task at hand.

    You want everyone to bring the information to you on a silver platter? Where are your investigative abilities? Where is the ability to think and acquire information for yourself?

    I said a long time ago that I’m done thinking for you, and I am.

    Just one clarification, I’m not “expecting” tax payers to fork over the capital for Wifi. They’ve already done it. You’re late to the party. The capital request has been approved. I knew how much this would cost and knew of the implementation plan because I informed myself of the Common Core implementation plan LONG before it was reported on this site.

    But that just gets to my point: You’re the one who knows the least about this subject.

    And that’s fine – I would expect anyone in your situation to investigate and learn about the subject in order to catch up, but you just don’t seem to be able to do that, either!

    You’re still circling the drain around a “prove it” argument. But the BOE has already bought in. Even Steven Colarossi, a BOE member running on the Republican ticket, has weighed in TWICE on the matter.

    So, if you want to change peoples mind on this, you have to present an alternative. That alternative has to be viable and meet the requirements.

    I’ve called you out once, I’m calling you out again. You’re alternative, please. Make that your next reply, if you have any self-respect, Bryan (or whoever you are?).

    (This comment has been edited to conform with our comment policy)

  29. Bryan Meek

    You can call me out all you want, I don’t know what that does, but the reality is we shouldn’t be approving plans from anyone who lost his job after being accused of stealing from the city. This is a severe control issue on top of the $4 million that wasn’t properly booked.
    And I have already told you a solution, but you don’t seem to comprehend that so I’ll end it here. I’ll be around when the bids come in. I’m especially interested in what needs to be done for the central office since city hall already has wifi.

  30. David

    $150 wireless routers? That’s your proposed solution? Now THAT would be a true waste of money, because your solution won’t meet the technology requirements. If you had researched the requirements, you would KNOW that.

    The problem here, again, is that you don’t know what the technical requirements are. You don’t know what’s in the proposal. You don’t seem to know how to go about getting more details on either of those. That, or you just haven’t bothered to GET the details.

    And in return, you just throw out the first thing that comes to mind. The very epitome of low effort thinking.

    I REALLY thought that someone with decades of experience in the technology field would do a better job of thinking critically on this matter. Instead, you have just panned the whole initiative without truly knowing anything about the program and/or what problem it was solving.

  31. Bryan Meek

    David, I will type slowly one more time so you can comprehend. $1500 access points are all that is needed for buildings that are already wired with routers and switches. You could do 10 of them NHS.
    The reason I have to guess about what is in the proposal or what the requirements are is because they are not on line.
    This is coming the group who insists that we need to be on line to educate our children, yet can’t be bothered to put the specs and plans on line.
    You might have all the free time in the world to go to meetings and submit FOIs, but some of us do not and do not appreciate blindly throwing millions into a system that has repeatedly failed to deliver on its mission.
    I don’t need years of experience to formulate this nor any advanced degrees. Just common sense.
    Instead of continuing to call my credibility into line, why don’t you do all a favor and list all the equipment that is required and I’ll consider myself more informed then. Since you seem privy to the specifications required by common core, please share them. Either you are incapable or they do not exist.

  32. Bryan Meek

    You can get 80 of these for $1500 each list price. Cisco Aironet 3600 Series Access Point. 10 in NHS and McMahon. 5 in each MS. 3 in each elementary. 2 in briggs and 2 in central office, even though city hall already has it. This is probably overkill, but with block construction you might need it. Each of these can support up to 500 users simultaneously.
    If you can’t leverage the city’s wlan controller you can pick this one up for about $40k list price. Cisco 5500 Series Wireless Controllers. That can manage 100 of the waps above and in total manage 18000 connections simultaneously.
    Let’s be conservative and estimate a full day to install and configure each one of these at $150 / hour. And 2 weeks to balance and fine tune the controller and system.
    Save your calculator. That is a total of $160,000 at full list price plus $108k for labor for a total of $278,000.
    Now will someone tell me what equipment I am missing here since the plans and specs are not on line anywhere? Thank you.

  33. Bryan Meek

    excuse the typo $268k total. And add that in this job market and sluggish economy, I would expect steep discounts for this.

  34. David

    You see – now that’s the spirit! We’ve come a long way since $150 wireless routers and 10,000 PC’s. It’s still a lot of darts in the dark, but at least you’re thinking!

    If you’d made this the first comment on this post, rather than the last, I think this could have been a very constructive conversation.

  35. Bryan Meek

    David, I never once said $150 routers on this thread. You made that part up. A $1500 WAP is similar in concept but is for commercial applications.

    I still stand by our children having more PCs for the short term of the next 5 years along with more computer science and business education curricula.

    And one more time, this could be a $100 million project for all I care. This $2.25 million project as it is right now, ….coming from who it is coming from is an affront to the taxpayers.

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