Richmond’s schools get internet upgrade amid budget deficit

Posted at 12:25 PM, Jun 19, 2012
and last updated 2012-06-19 13:21:37-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Richmond Public Schools announced a major technology upgrade today, one that will make internet access more readily available to every student.  But some are asking, is this a wise investment considering the huge budget cuts the school board was forced to make last month?

The $10-million budget shortfall is casting a shadow over every single move the Richmond Public School District makes, but according to Superintendent Dr. Yvonne Brandon, upgrading to a new fiber optic network provider is going to not only save the district $120-thousand a year, it's going to open up a whole new world for kids and teachers.

Dr. Brandon and her IT team met with the media today, introducing a new partnership with Windstream Corporation (Nasdaq: WIN) to increase the school district's wide area network (WAN) infrastructure capacity.  Basically, they're upgrading 58 school locations that used to be on dial-up computer access at a cost of $1.5-million a year, to a faster fiber optic network at a total cost of $904-thousand a year.  80% of that is paid for with funds set aside at the state and federal level.

In the middle of trying to fill that $10-million budget shortfall after already making drastic cuts, this move has the potential to not only saves the district money, but give students access to high-speed internet for school projects, and gives teachers more resources to use in the classroom.

"We knew the economic climate was turning downward” said Dr. Brandon, “and as a means of trying to find any and every resource we could, we utilized federal and state dollars to the maximum."

Representatives from Windstream Corp. say it will let all schools within the district conduct online and standardized testing at the same time.  And when you compare it to the previous system being used by the district, they say this fiber optic network is about 300 times faster.

James W. Dyke Jr., a former Virginia Secretary of Education, and the chairman of Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones' task force to find ways the school board could save money, commended Dr. Brandon and the school board for aggressively pursing federal money for long-term budget solutions instead of "soft money quick fixes".