Monday, November 02, 2009

TUSD voters: say no to frivolous computer purchases by voting no on Prop 402

A day before the election, the final post on this year's ballot questions for my area.

Voters in TUSD's boudaries are being asked to approve a capital outlay override (Proposition 402) the purposes of which is (according to TUSD) computer equipment upgrades.

It's a mix of reasonable and unreasonable requests. Were upgrading network switches to decrease energy consumption and replacing inefficient old business operations software the only proposed options, I'd recommend a "yes" vote. But taxpayers are also being asked to fund an increase in Internet connection speed and replace up to 10,000 "worn out or failing" classroom computers.

Computers do not get "worn out". They are either failing or not failing. Many of the remarks made by supporters of Prop. 402 to the press make it sound as though the computers are to be replaced because they are old. For grade-school and high-school classroom purposes, older computers are as good as new ones. Even DOS machines with Wordperfect 5 and Lotus 1-2-3 would probably work well--an that's fancier than the IBM PCs we used in grade school!--except where Web access is needed or for the purposes of a high-school programming course in which the students should probably be learning C or C++. Even for those purposes, Athlon machines--a dime a dozen--running Linux will do just fine.

Want an example of the sort of weasel talk has got my blood boiling here? See Robert Breault's guest opinion defending Prop 402 in the Daily Star. Breault claims:
10-year-old computers cannot run modern software and it takes too long to do a simple Internet search.
Computer literacy prepares students for college and the workplace. In today's world, everyone — from medical technicians to heavy-machinery operators to optical engineers — must master modern computer technology.

But what "modern software", versions of which didn't run on the 686 that I bought in 1999, is really of use in the classroom? That machine accessed the Internet, ran a GUI wordprocessor and spreadsheet, and even was used for scientific computation? And Breault, being a tech guy himself, must surely know that Internet searches are done on the server side, not the client side: speed of the machine being used to access the search engine doesn't affect the speed of the search. And whatever it is those technicians he names at the ends do on computers, the kids won't be learning it in grade school or high school no matter how new their computers are. Computer basics--which, to me, means using a computer to compute something!--can be learned on an old machine as well as a new one.

Baloney, in short. Arguments for upgrades are baloney. They may have a reasonable core, but they've been universally padded with so much bad argument that the request itself is suspect. The District has not given a curriculum-based argument for new computers or faster Internet access. Moreover, the District has insufficiently explored another option: replacing its failing computers with hand-me-downs from homes and businesses. A 5-year-old machine replaced because its user wants to play the newest video games or because asking office staff to not use the latest frivolous upgrade of MS Word as an interchange format is somehow asking too much can have plenty of life left for school purposes. But public schools don't ask.

As noted in the Pima Association of Taxpayers' argument in the official information packet (page 35 of the file), TUSD is already entitled to Federal "E-Rate" telephone tax money, were TUSD to put together a successful application. (TUSD can receive the money due to, among other things, the number of students in the hot-lunch program...) We're already being taxed on our phone billsto pay for technology upgrades for TUSD; TUSD mismanagement means the schools don't receive the money. Prop. 402 is a double-tax, asking the taxpayer to make up for TUSD's errors. Turn the page of the packet to find BEST TUSD's argument for more of the same. We're being asked to pay to make up for vendor favoritism, loss of E-rate funds, and other mismanagement.

See Dave Devine's 2006 report in the Tucson Weekly or just search the Web for the keywords "TUSD" and "E-rate" to learn more about what has transpired.

Hold on for Federal phone tax money, don't subsidize TUSD bureaucrats' failures. Vote "No" on 402.

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