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Pioneer to begin $400,000 computer replacement

NORTHFIELD — Work will begin this summer on a $400,000 computer equipment upgrade plan at the Pioneer Valley Regional School District’s five schools.

The district will borrow the money for a five-year term, with each of the district’s four towns’ shares based on their percentages of the school budget. Repayment will begin in the 2016 fiscal year.

District officials said the upgrades are crucial if the schools are to function properly in the coming school year.

The district formulated the original replacement plan and had a consultant review it at the urging of member towns. The review, by the Collaborative for Educational Services, identified areas for potential savings, and also made suggestions to make sure the replacements and upgrades would meet future needs.

A large part of the plan deals with replacing the district’s servers, which currently run on Windows XP. Microsoft is phasing out support for XP, and the new servers will run Windows 8.

User-end equipment, such as PCs, laptops and Macintosh workstations are also up for replacement.

Some town officials had questioned whether user-end computers should run the tried-and-true Windows 7, or the newer Windows 8. Windows 8 has been criticized by many for bugs as well as its revamped interface, which is more geared for a tablet computer than a traditional PC.

The consultant advised that the district opt for the newer system to avoid possible compatibility issues between Windows 7 PCs and a Windows 8 server.

The review also suggested that the district buy a site-wide software license for the operating system, which would cost less than buying a license for each computer and would also allow the district to use the same license for computers bought in the future.

Superintendent Dayle Doiron said the planned upgrades may come in at less than the estimated $400,000.

For example, the district had allotted $189,700 to replace 271 Windows PCs at the cost of $700 each, though they should cost less.

“Now that we’ve priced out the equipment we wish to purchase, (none of the PCs) cost $700,” Doiron said.

Warwick Town Coordinator David Young had asked that the district consider buying used Windows 7 computers at a deep discount and replacing them more often.

“With about 500 workstations, the district could replace the whole shooting match for $5,000 and have none of the computers be more than three years old,” said Young. “Instead, we’ll be spending capital for computers at about $500 each year after year after year.”

The consultants advised against the used equipment, but stated that the district could save money by buying models that are being phased out by their manufacturers.

Young has been one of the plan’s most outspoken critics since it was introduced.

“I support the district’s technology goals, but is this the best solution for a revenue-strapped school district?” he asked.

Young balked at the consultants’ suggestion that the district buy Windows 8 machines with 8 gigabytes of memory and gigabyte hard drives.

“We don’t need to buy the latest-and-greatest ‘bleeding edge’ technology,” he continued. “We’re looking at a $200,000 annual expenditure forever.”

The current $400,000 plan covers only some of the needed replacements, and Doiron has told district towns to expect requests to borrow another $150,000 to $200,000 for technology upgrades in each of the next two years.

If this year’s upgrades cost less than expected, Doiron said the district will likely replace more equipment, cutting down on the cost of future year upgrades.

You can reach David Rainville at: drainville@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 279 On Twitter follow: @RecorderRain

The amount of money being borrowed is unusually large because the school district had to severely curtail computer upgrades and replacements over the past several years due to insufficient funding of the operating budget. This major upgrade is unavoidable because the obsolescence of Windows XP. To run the newer operating system, a large portion of the hardware needs to be replaced all at once. This is not something that happens on an annual basis. When procuring computer equipment for public education, it’s essential to purchase machines that will last for several years, so that they will make it through the normal replacement cycle. One cannot simply purchase home computers or used computers. While those solutions offer the illusion of cost-efficiency, they are actually more expensive. One ends up paying more in repairs and upgrades, and the replacement cycle is shortened due to the necessity of having to replace machines more frequently to meet increased application and/or networking requirements. Therefore the annual cost of ownership increases under those solutions. The adage "you get what you pay for" is very applicable in this case. Local town officials need to take responsibility for their role in this situation. While the urgency of the upgrade was unquestionably precipitated by Microsofts' business decisions, the magnitude of this project is clearly the result of inadequate funding on the part of the towns over the past several years. That town officials continue to debate and delay this project, even at this late date, reflects poorly on them.

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