A proposal to increase Forest Park School District 91’s Internet capabilities and consequently its Internet spending received a mixed reaction from the school board at last Thursday evening’s meeting.
The suggested upgrade, according to Superintendent Randolph Tinder, would involve getting rid of the district’s five copper T1 lines and replacing them with a new, more up-to-date fiber optic network.
“We have had sporadic problems with Internet access with the T1 lines, and we’re looking for solutions. These things happen when you go from 100 computers to 450 over a five year span,” said Tinder.
According to Tinder, AT&T has proposed a plan that would increase the speed of the district’s Internet connection by about 600 percent and put the necessary infrastructure in place for several future technology upgrades.
He said the project would be put out to bid if the board approved it, but noted that AT&T “seemed pretty confident they’ll be the only game in town.”
In addition, Tinder said, the new system would make problem solving far less strenuous as there would be only one line, and the root of any glitches would be easier to trace.
“We currently have routers at each building. That’s been our Achilles’ heel, because routers are notorious for failing,” Tinder said. The new system would only require one router at the Middle School, he said.
Currently, Dist. 91 spends $180 per line per month, but is eligible to get up to 54 percent of that cost back through “E-Rate” funding from the Federal Communications Commission. Tinder estimated the expense at around $4,000 to $5,000 per year.
With the new system, he said, “we’d be looking at $35,000 to $40,000 per year.”
Another option, he said, would be to install a wireless network at the district’s schools, but he said that doing so would present an upfront cost of around $75,000. He also mentioned that the idea of installing wireless Internet has been controversial at some school districts, including Oak Park School District 97.
Though the Village of Forest Park has considered installing wireless Internet throughout the town, Tinder said he is unsure whether that system, if installed, would be capable of handling the traffic generated by the school district.
Though nobody argued against the proposal, some board members seemed to think that more research was needed.
“It’s a tough call with technology. The second you upgrade, it becomes obsolete,” said board member Sean Blaylock, who works in General Electric’s electrical components department. “This may totally serve the purpose of the school district at this time, but are there other options out there?”
Board member Frank Mott was also skeptical. “This would be a six fold increase in speed, but a 10 fold increase in cost. It doesn’t compute for me,” he said.
Tinder, in response, emphasized the urgency of the situation. “We had a bad year. We had a lot of days when service was interrupted, and if we keep using copper lines, it’ll happen more and more,” he said.
Though he acknowledged that the switch would be expensive, he told the board that “the overage in our education fund could pay for this for 7 or 8 years. We can afford this. It’s not extravagant.”
The board did not take any action on the issue on Thursday, instead asking that the district’s IT specialist attend their next meeting to present the case for the upgrade.