Survey: Richland parents might OK tax

RICHLAND -- Preliminary results of an online survey suggest Richland parents would be willing to pay additional taxes to bring a high tech approach to learning into their schools.

The survey is the first step in determining whether the Richland School District should put a technology levy before voters next year.

Deputy Superintendent John Steach presented the latest results of the survey at Tuesday's school board meeting.

The findings were extremely positive, he said, noting he was pleasantly shocked at the overwhelming support for what amounts to a new tax.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 503 people had voted in the online survey. The survey asks questions about voters' technology habits, how often they use a computer, how often they upgrade their computers at home and what importance they assign to schools' ability to teach kids in the most advanced way possible.

It also checks on voters' understanding of school finances before raising the key question: How likely would you be to support a special levy for technology upgrades?

Exactly half of all respondents answered they'd be "extremely likely" to support a levy, another 35 percent said they'd by "somewhat likely" to do so.

Steach took these numbers as a clear mandate from Richland parents.

"They are asking us to package this and take it to the voters," he said. "I never imagined we'd get this kind of response."

But he had one reservation: "I have this uneasy feeling that this is not representative of the whole community," he said. His worry is that district employees who also have kids in Richland schools are overrepresented in the survey, he said.

The survey will remain online through Sunday. Steach will then collect the data, write out an analysis and bring it to the school board Nov. 9, he said.

If such a levy is passed, Richland schools would "transfer conventional textbook instruction to electronic instruction," said John Deichman, a community volunteer who put together a presentation on the need for improved technology in the district. Deichman is a retired nuclear waste engineer.

The vision Deichman laid out included tablet computers for every student and paperless classrooms. All instruction and testing would be online. Textbook publishers are beginning a push for electronic textbooks, with a first few appearing only in that format.

Many questions remain, Deichman acknowledged.

"It brings up the concern about drop-kicking an iPad," he said about the durability of the popular tablet device. The technology would have to be available to students 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the transformation to work, he said.

The lone pushback in the room Tuesday night came from a surprising source -- students.

"A book, as long as you can carry it, you can take it anywhere," said Freddy Madrid, a senior at Richland High School. "Needing to use a computer limits you."

As people filed out of the board meeting, another student told Deichman she didn't feel comfortable staring at a screen to study.

"I just do better with a book, period," said Shelby Weatherman, also a Richland High senior.

To take the survey, go to www.rsd.edu and click on "Take the RSD Technology Survey" under "Latest RSD.EDU updates."