Vintage Mac Living

What a Waste! Some Schools Would Rather Store Old Computers than Put Them to Use

- 2007.09.12

Editor's note: This column looks at the computing situation in Denver. Count on it being repeated in school district after school district. dk

It's amazing how wasteful some people can be. I can't even begin to express how disappointed I am with the IT administrators of Denver Public Schools (DPS).

Last week I visited a DPS computer lab teacher. He and I are friends, and he keeps me up to date with all that is happening in the computer realm of the schools.

We went into the computer lab, and, as usual, there were 25 or so eMacs hooked up and running, a G4 server, and a several new machines that just arrived for the new school year. That is all great - except for the 15+ totally functional machines, including eMacs, G4 iMacs, and a G4 Cube that are sitting in corners unused for no apparent reason.

I asked my friend what the deal was with all of these machines. The conversation went something like this:

Me: "Why are there so many extra machines in your room? I mean, come on, some of them are scattered on the floor. Don't tell me they're all broken."

Tech: "Oh, those? No, there's nothing wrong with them. I was going to send them out to classrooms, but none of the teachers want them."

Me: "Why?"

Tech: "Well, a number of reasons. It seems this year most of the teachers and administrators (not including myself) seem to think a machine that has less than 2 gigs of RAM, a monitor smaller than 20", or a processor slower than 2 GHz is worthless and has no place in the classroom."

Me: "You've got to be kidding! What exactly do the teachers and students do with these machines anyway?

Tech: "For the most part the teachers use them for Google, to take attendance, and to check their email. The kid's use them for Kid Pix and other old games."

Me: "These people actually think that you need 2 gigs of RAM, a 20" monitor, and a 2 GHz processor to check email and search Google?

Tech: "You've got the idea."

Me: "Who the hell told these people that you need that much horsepower to Google something and check email?"

Tech: "Well, the district doesn't help. We can't place an order for a machine with less than 2 gigs of RAM this year. And with the new iMac only coming in 20" and 24" sizes, well, you get the idea.

"If you took a shinny bag of garbage and threw it into a classroom and yelled out 'Look what so and so got', the other teachers would be like 'Why does he get a shinny bag of garbage? I want a shinny bag of garbage. That's not fair!' Teachers can be more childish that children."

Me: "So you're telling me that there are 20 computers in here that are totally functional, but no one will use them?"

Tech: "Oh, this is just the overflow. The basement is filled with unused computers, not to mention the closets and cabinets in classrooms filled with them. I could easily make another computer lab or two out of spare machines, but they won't let me. Either the hardware is too old or it isn't uniform. And they won't even let us use parts out of them."

Me: "It sounds like there are well over 200 machines collecting dust for no reason whatsoever."

Tech: "That's sounds about right. But it's not just this school; it's all of them."

Me: "All of them? There are 150 schools in this district!"

Tech: "I know."

Me: "You mean to tell me that there could be 30,000 Macs out there collecting dust? Why doesn't the district give them away if they're useless to the teachers and staff?"

Tech: "They can't just give them away. This district doesn't account for deprecation every year, so until they decide to come and write it off the inventory, we're stuck with it."

Me: "Apparently that Classic II sitting in the corner over there is still worth $1,900, huh?"

We don't even really have a use for the new stuff.

Tech: "Yep. Personally I'd be happy with 350 MHz, but the district keeps shoving the new stuff on me, and then I can't give anything I have left to the teachers because they want new hardware. We don't even really have a use for the new stuff. With the exception of the bundled software that comes with the new machines, we haven't really upgraded any of our software in 15 to 20 years. We're still using Reader Rabbit 2 and Math Blasters Plus in Classic mode. We don't need any more new hardware; what we need is new software to go on it."

Me: "Sounds like you could get by very happily using nothing by Classics and LCs for everything except for the Internet."

Tech: "Yeah, I could. We all could. It's just that no one sees that."

Tell me this isn't crazy. I mean, seriously, do you know how many people would benefit from DPS giving away all of the hardware that they have forsaken over the years?

If there are 30,000 families in Denver that don't have a computer, and each family has four people in it, you could give 120,000 people access to a computer in their own home for free.

If that doesn't get to you, this will: Over the course of the last 15 years, DPS has spent roughly US$40 million of taxpayer money on this equipment - and for what? So it can spend most of it's time sitting in a dark closet or basement unused? I don't think so! I don't like the idea of throwing my money away for equipment that will be used for a year and then moved to a closet, never to be seen again. Do you?

DPS administrators, here's what I would do if I were you:

Take all of the machines that you aren't using and either give them away or sell them cheaply so you can buy new software that will run on your new Intel machines.

Don't buy any new computers for the next 3-5 years. And when you finally buy something new, move the older equipment to rooms that can use it.

I don't want to hear about how "underpowered" they are. I'm writing this on a 466 MHz G4 while surfing the Web, chatting with friends, running Photoshop, and listening to iTunes. This machine is almost seven years old, and it works fine; those Intel iMacs shouldn't be much worse off in seven years than my Power Mac is now.

You've been spoiled long enough, and it's time for you to make due with what you have. You don't get any more until you finish what you have. LEM

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