By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
Cullman County schools technology director Bruce Ellard has been making “wish lists” for years, as part of a practice to provide a roadmap for infrastructure and equipment upgrades within the system. Now, with additional funding via the countywide half-cent sales tax, he might finally get to implement some of those long-delayed infrastructure and software upgrades.
But first, Ellard and his department have to decide which areas to tackle first.
“We were at such a low point last year, it’s amazing what a difference a year makes,” Ellard said at a Monday night meeting. “We’ll essentially be looking at four areas: where we are status-wise; look at our successes; look at our problems and what we can do to deal with them; and prioritize where we need to go next.”
A total of 65 percent of the system’s technological equipment is more than five years old. With virtually no technology funding from the state — and no local funds to invest in infrastructure — Ellard said his department has tried to implement what improvements they could, while keeping old computers and equipment functional across the system in the meantime.
The first step to rebuilding the department has already been taken, Ellard said, with the addition of two technician positions that had been lost to attrition in recent years. The salary schedule for the technology department has also been overhauled, bringing it up to a level that is more competitive with comparable systems.
“The salary schedule has been a big success and the sales tax revenue should help this plan actually be more than just a wish list,” Ellard said. “We were down two people at this time last year, but we’ve gotten those back now. We’re ready to move forward with those two more technicians now.”
One critical need comes in bandwidth across the school campuses, which Ellard said is woefully low for a system this size. Ellard said plans are already in the works to triple bandwidth within the next year.
The technology department is also creating a database to track repairs and common issues, in an effort to streamline processes and identify systemwide trends.
“We’re working up a database to keep track of what we’re doing,” Ellard explained. “This will provide a lot of great data in the future, to help determine common problems that might exist across campuses.”
Two new software platforms are also being rolled out this year, which will allow easier access to student grades and progress reports, as well as a paperless document system.
Though revenue from the half-cent tax will help fill some gaps, Ellard said he is also pushing the state legislature to restore some technology funding by adding a per-student line item for regular technology funding to the education budget.
“We need to go to the state and ask them to support it, because we’re moving to the point where technology is foundational to the education process, second only to the teacher,” he said.
* Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.