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TMCNet:  Duval gets $58M upgrade ; Bonds, $8M in donations fund devices, wireless Internet access [Florida Times Union]

[August 25, 2014]

Duval gets $58M upgrade ; Bonds, $8M in donations fund devices, wireless Internet access [Florida Times Union]

(Florida Times Union Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Duval schools will use $50 million in low-interest bonds and $8 million in donations to put high-speed, wireless Internet access in all schools over the next three years. The money also would upgrade and increase technology in middle schools and in 36 struggling "transformation" schools.


The plans include buying enough laptops and other devices for 1- to-1 or 2-to-1 access for students. Most teachers in those schools would have smart boards, document cameras, clickers and other classroom tech, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said.

Vitti thanked donors for helping the district secure the special bonds to finance the project. He said education technology can help level the playing field for Duval's students.

"We have not historically equipped schools and teachers to be competitive in today's economy," he said. "Today's investment will place our children in a position to compete with children in private schools like Bolles." Many private schools provide computers to each student and market their technological advantages to parents.

But many large public school systems can't afford it. Duval's technology funding is less than $10 million a year, Vitti said.

"We continue to talk about technology and promote technology, but we don't fund technology," he said.

Most Duval schools were built in the 1950s and have Internet access only in "hot spots," such as computer labs and media centers. It's common for classes to lose Internet connections or for lessons or testing to slow down because of unreliable Internet access, district officials have said.

Also, there are about 2 1/2 or three, students for every computer at Duval schools, Vitti said.

Over the next three years, school buildings will be retrofitted to accommodate high-speed Internet throughout. Students in dozens of schools will have greater access to computers, Vitti said.

To pay for it, Duval will issue low-interest bonds called Qualified Zone Academy Bonds, or QZABs. They're federal bonds awarded by the state on a competitive basis to high-poverty districts that can come up with at least 10 percent in matching funds.

Duval applied for and won all $50 million in available QZAB bonds, Vitti said, thanks to $8 million from donors in the Quality Education for All initiative, the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, Emtech Inc. and Collaborative Solutions Inc.

It's the second time Duval has won QZAB bonds. Last year $29 million in bonds paid for wireless access and devices in 41 schools.

Ultimately, it will take another $100 million to put laptops in every Duval student's hands, Vitti said. The School Board is "exploring," asking the public for a general revenue bond for that.

On a smaller scale, QZAB bonds are key to important district goals: to improve academics and culture at middle schools and to target resources toward 36 transformation schools, which include Raines, Ribault and Andrew Jackson high schools and the elementary and middle schools that feed them.

"Classroom technology doesn't replace good teaching; it enhances instruction," said Sara Bravo, principal at Landon College Preparatory and Leadership Development School.Denise Amos: (904) 359- 4083 (c) 2014 ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.

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