Students are often forced to share a station or wait their turn. And many times, they simply are not able to access a computer at all.
“In an ideal world, every student would have a computer with them at all times,” said Casey Goodall, assistant superintendent of business services for Tracy Unified. “There are schools that have figured out how to use computers the best they can.”
Tracy Unified has about 3,000 computers available for its 15,968 students — which works out to roughly one for every five students.
But whether that is sufficient often depends on how individual schools use what they have, Goodall said. The number of computers needed to do that just might be a subjective figure.
“The state will never have enough funds to provide a computer for each student,” said Cindy Minter, the district’s director of information services and education technology. “All schools throughout the state of California need computers. Tracy is no different.
“There is a limited amount due to budget cuts,” Minter added. “It’s very sad to see.”
Wayne Thallander, an English and journalism teacher at Tracy High School, noticed he had computers missing from his classroom after a holiday break last year.
There were eight computers in the class when he left, but when he returned, there were only four. No explanation was given as to why they were removed. He guesses it’s because they were the oldest computers he had in the classroom.
“I don’t know where they went, if they were recycled,” he said. “I would like to have kept those computers and kept them offline and used them for word processing.
“There’s no budget to do replacement, no funds available. We’re in a different world right now. It’s frustrating — I don’t think this is just at Tracy High School,” Thallander added.
Minter said, though, that all the district’s technology is used as long as it’s useful.
“Computers stay in a school until they ultimately have been upgraded as far as they can be upgraded,” she said.
Minter’s department works to maintain and upgrade computers whenever necessary. Without enough money to buy new processors, however, the most she is able to do is routinely check and update what the schools already have.
“Where we’re at right now, it’s been school-driven. Schools have not had the funds to purchase anything or replace their computers,” Minter said. “Last summer, we worked as much as we could to upgrade hard drives — memory of computers. We’re continually looking for grants (and) fundraising.”
While some high-poverty schools, called Title 1 schools, are entitled to special grants, others aren’t so lucky. And fundraisers and normal funding lately haven’t been enough to keep computers current.
When computers are finally deemed “outdated” by the district board, they are carted to the district warehouse and then sent to an e-waste landfill for proper disposal.
When that happens, there is precious little money to buy replacements.
For 2010-11, the district has a $511,516 general-fund budget for its 21 schools — a sum that’s divided according to enrollment and student demographics — to spend on supplies and other needs, including computers. And while the district board must approve how the money is spent, the limited budget means schools must prioritize their needs.
That squeeze means teachers can be left with fewer computers than they desire.
Thallander said he’d like at least nine computers for his class of 18 students, who write and edit stories in class that are uploaded to an online newspaper website. But he makes do with four, he said, because he understands it’s not just his class that’s affected.
“Everybody is respectful and cognitive of the needs others have. It’s not that somebody else is getting money and getting computers and I’m not,” Thallander said. “Right now, with the state economy, it’s just the nature of the way things are. You’re always hopeful that things are going to get better.”
The district and individual schools, through the money they’re allotted, try to give students the best resources to pursue their education, Minter said. But it isn’t easy.
“Our job is to provide them (teachers and students) the tools to teach and be taught,” Minter said. “We’re over there to make a difference. We want them to graduate and learn as much as they can in the schools.”