Penn Manor to Receive New Tech, More Taxes

by Gabrielle Bauman

We may soon see some new computers at the high school. Well, not soon enough for the seniors.

The new computers may be in as soon at 2014 en masse, but the social studies department has already seen 30 or so computers. Some elementary and middle school teachers also have volunteered to take the computers for a test drive for the 2012-13 school year.

At the recent Penn Manor School Board meeting, the plan for implementing new computers at Penn Manor’s schools was detailed, along with a new tax plan, and a rough outline of the solution to a diagnostic dilemma.

What’s so different about the new laptops? They’re PCs. And they run Linux.

Penn Manor exploring a possible switch to Ubuntu, an offshoot of Linux

Linux is an open source, third party operating system separate from Windows or Mac. It runs closer to Windows in looks than the Mac OS, but it has gained popularity in the tech world for both its open source code (meaning that you can use it to help your computer do whatever you want it to do) and its adorable penguin mascot.

There is also another benefit to using Linux. According to the Penn Manor Technology Blog, “Like Mac OS X, Ubuntu is immune to the thousands of virus and malware apps common to Microsoft Windows. Of course, no software platform is perfectly secure and free from security issues; therefore, Penn Manor IT staff will regularly update our Ubuntu laptops with necessary security patches and continue to mitigate potential security breaches via industry standard network procedures.”

The system would still be vulnerable to viruses, but with some patches and elbow grease, the worst of them might be avoided.

“High school students are already beginning to see more PC laptops. We have a cart of 30 in the social studies department and another few batches in use for special projects. Don’t forget that PCs are utilized in Tech Ed and business classrooms, too. To give some perspective: Several years ago, Penn Manor High School was largely a PC/Windows building with only a few Macs,” said Charlie Reisinger, the Penn Manor Technology Director.

According to Reisinger, the district would save a substantial amount of money by switching to the new operating system, which is offered free online. Windows and Apple licensing can cost a significant amount of the technology budget.

The savings are surprising, “Penn Manor currently employs 620 Lenovo x120e ThinkPads running Ubuntu Linux and open source software. At a minimum, our open source program has saved over $70,000 versus an implementation of iPads or similar tablet technology. If we compare the cost of Ubuntu-powered ThinkPad netbooks against the price of a standard $900 MacBook, our savings are well over a quarter of a million dollars,” said the Tech Blog.

Penn Manor is currently operating under an armada of Apple computers, but since Apple has discontinued its plastic Macbook that is currently used, the next closest option is the Macbook Pro. The Pro can run up to over a thousand dollars.

“When we received the PA Department of Education Classrooms for the Future grant, the building moved to Macbooks because the platform was superior to the PC alternative at the time. Unfortunately, now that the grant money has dissolved, and our budgets are being reduced, we need to look for lower cost alternatives,” said Reisinger, “We cannot sustain an all Apple system on the budget.”

The district is also looking to close the gap in the next few years between computer availability and the number of students. According to Reisinger, there are 1721 students at the high school, and 795 computers. That makes the student-to-computer ratio 2.16, compared to Marticville Middle School’s ratio of 1.39.

Late last week the Sapphire grading system got a makeover as well, “The new system was developed by our vendor, K12 Systems, Inc. Penn Manor is one of the district who sit on their client advisory committee. I’ve been looking for a graphical refresh for some time. Plus, we’re very excited that the new Portal will let us post progress reports, report card and other documents, too.”

That means that, while students will have the option of opting in for a paper report card, Penn Manor is moving to online, instant reports.

Additionally, the IU in Lancaster County has discontinued their diagnostic kindergarten services class for the Susquehanna Valley.Penn Manor typically has 3 to 6 kindergarteners at any given year enrolled in our schools, and the closest class is in Manheim.

Diagnostic kindergarteners are children with severe needs, such as children with autism or developmental disabilities. They can come with their own aids, and Pequea Elementary has had an existing class in the past.

The choice for the school board was to bus 3-6 five-year- olds to Manheim — not a good solution for children living in the southern end — or to hire a new teacher and have our own class. Two additional aids would also have to be hired. The board voted to create the new class for the time being, until a more official vote could be made.

The proposed cost to operate a class at Penn Manor is $117,480, and the cost to send the students to Manheim would be $151,856.

The school board also voted on a tax hike of 1.6 percent to cover the proposed budget of $65,637,762.

Penn Manor should expect changes to the way they use and learn technology. Who knows, maybe future students will be Linux masters.

More from Gabie at: 4c3ofsp4des