Dave Hanlon prowls through his fifth-grade classroom, observing his students playing math games on computer laptops perched on each desk.
A teacher at Hopi Elementary in Phoenix’s Arcadia neighborhood, Hanlon regularly stops to answer questions or looks to the front of the room to watch students draw angles on an interactive white board projecting computer-generated lessons.
A microphone hanging around his neck amplifies his voice, cutting through the noise in the room.
“Plan on this for five more minutes, then it’s time to pack up,” he said to his class last week.
Technology is becoming a necessary teaching tool to keep students engaged, according to Scottsdale Unified School District administrators. They envision classrooms like Hanlon’s across the district if a $83.2 million capital override is approved by voters on Nov. 7.
The district hopes to have this technology in every classroom within five years.
The seven-year override would help pay for several items, including playground improvements, school furniture and fine-arts equipment. But the bulk of the money — $45 million — would be set aside for technology.
The district crafted the override so that, if passed, secondary property taxes would remain stable at $1.26 per $100 of assessed valuation, said Dave Peterson, chief of finance and facilities.
If the override is turned down by voters, secondary taxes would drop to an estimated $1.01 per $100 of assessed valuation.
Technologically, Hopi is a model for the rest of the district to follow, said Ernest Nicely, executive director of technology and information systems for the district. The school was able to put technology in 10 classrooms, largely thanks to a parent group’s fundraising.
Those classrooms are wired with interactive white boards, document cameras, overhead projectors and audio enhancement, said principal Drew Davis. Teachers can also check out nine carts that hold laptops for classroom use.
Tess DeWulf, one of Hanlon’s students, said lessons are a lot less dull with computers.
“You had to write instead of type. Typing is so much faster,” said Tess, 10, barely looking up from her laptop.
Galen Wood, 10, added that he likes using online resources and playing computer games.
“It’s games at the same time as learning,” he said.
There is no organized group opposing the override, but critics have written in the Maricopa County election pamphlet that the district has a history of asking for money for projects that usually aren’t necessary. They especially point to a plan to give laptops to high school students, and accuse the district of overspending what they’re given.
Nicely stressed just how important classroom technology is.
He recalled watching a fifth-grade science class research catapults online. The students started debating each other, citing Web sites they looked up as the discussion went on.
“The teacher was learning right along with them,” he said. “We’re putting tools in students’ hands that have search engines.”
Most of Hopi’s technology funding came from a parent group, but that model wouldn’t work for every school in the district, Nicely said. Not every parent group is focused on buying technology, which would create inequalities across the district.
Scottsdale has turned to private businesses for help — for instance, Intel has given money and expertise for teacher training — but it’s difficult to get large cash donations from businesses year after year, Nicely said.
That leaves state funding. Nicely said funding for his department is the same as it was 15 years ago.
“I have enough funding to help a school a year,” Nicely said. “So in 33 years, I’d help all the schools.”
As part of the override, the technology would be installed in one-fifth of the classrooms each year, starting with the teachers who are most interested.
Every teacher will be required to get 40 hours of training before the technology is installed, Nicely said.
There is a plan to check out laptops to high school students starting the third year of the override, Nicely said. The students would be allowed to take the computers home.
But the laptops would remain district property, he added.
The district studied hundreds of similar programs that already exist around the country, Nicely said.
There were isolated incidents of abuse but “it’s amazing how well the kids take care of the machines, because it becomes a vital tool. And they know that,” he said.