IT group: Lafayette schools need more technology

The Lafayette Parish School Board’s spending on technology is three times less than the national average, based on a review of the district’s technology infrastructure and its needs, a local IT professional told school officials Wednesday.

About 10 years ago, the benchmark for technology expenses was about 3 percent of a school district’s budget; however, now the benchmark is about 4.5 percent, said Doug Menefee, chief information officer for the Schumacher Group, a Lafayette-based company that contracts emergency room services to hospitals across the country.

“Lafayette Parish school system for the past 10 years essentially averaged 1.5 percent spent on technology to support the students,” Menefee said. “For the last 12 years we’ve under-invested in technology by $48 million. In the last five years, we’ve under-invested by $31 million.”

On Wednesday, Menefee presented to the Lafayette Parish School Board the findings of a team of local IT professionals that reviewed technology needs within the school district.

The review was organized by the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, and volunteer team members gave more than 1,000 hours of their time visiting schools and meeting with teachers, students, and administrators.

The group found inconsistencies in the use and availability of technology in schools. The school district, along with others in the state, is under a deadline to increase technology access as part of the state’s implementation of online testing in 2014-15. Last month, district officials said they’ll spend about $6.2 million in technology to comply with the state’s switch to online testing.

Menefee said one student shared: “I hate taking tests on computers because I don’t get enough practice using them.” The comment was startling, Menefee said, because most people assume students are tech savvy. But students haven’t acclimated to the change in testing, he said.

“They’re used to taking tests and notes on paper,” he said.

District officials have said new computers will be in place in time for students to practice the new testing model.

But before the district makes more investments in technology, it needs to devise a strategy for the implementation and management of technology across the district, Menefee said.

The group recommended the board create a technology steering committee and hire a consultant to lead the committee through the development of a three-year technology strategy for the district.

he steering committee should include board members, teachers, administrators and volunteer IT professionals, the group advised.

The district should also consider filling its vacant chief information officer position and the steering committee should assist with the selection, the group advised.

Once a plan is developed that includes measurable outcomes, the district could attract donors, Menefee said.

Board member Rae Trahan requested the board take up the issue of creating the committee at its next board meeting on May 1.

Another public presentation of the peer review team’s report will be at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the LITE Center. The presentation is part of INNOV8, an eight-day festival focused on innovation and creativity.