KGNU contributor Gavin Dahl writes about ballot question 3A, brought by Boulder Valley School District, in the latest edition of Boulder Weekly. BVSD chief information officer Andrew Moore supports professional development for teachers using educational technology in classrooms and leads a dozen technicians who manage networks, phone systems and traditional IT services across the district’s 55 schools. Gavin reached Andrew by phone from the KGNU studios.
Moore: Senate Bill 152 affects all government agencies, whether you are a municipality, a county, or a school district. In Boulder Valley Schools, we are fortunate in that we have about 100 miles of our own private fiber network that runs to our schools. That fiber network is utilized in some places to 100% capacity but in other places only to about 70% capacity. So with that there is what we call dark fiber in the ground that is not being used today. When we looked into can we monetize that in some way, in other ways lease it to other entities, we can do that with other government agencies and we do have some leases in place today along those lines. But we’re restricted from doing so with private entities and we’re restricted from providing internet services as well from Senate Bill 152. So we really followed the City of Boulder’s lead. Last year they had done the analysis on their own private network. And they sent that to the voters last Nov. 2014. It passed by a large majority. That is when we started to look into our own network, and ask the question, well if the City of Boulder or any of the cities that we service, Louisville, Lafayette, Broomfield, Nederland, parts of Erie, if they wanted to do the same thing, and we wanted to enter into partnerships to help them with their own Internet services could we do that? And we concluded we could not unless we did an override ourselves. So we ended up going down the path to look at what it would take to do the override. We have now put that on the ballot for November to basically override Senate Bill 152 and be able to do the same things that any other government entity can do if they override as well.
Dahl: One thing voters might not understand is that if there were big money interests that were opposed to this, they would be able to spend as much money to try to convince voters to vote no. But the school district is actually not allowed to spend money to try to convince voters to vote yes on this, is that correct?
Moore: That’s correct. I’m very cautious about what I say on the issue to just remain factual on what we can and can’t do. In my role, I cannot, and frankly I agree with that, that I should not be able to lobby either for or against any ballot initiative. But I do have a role to explain what it is. And I do take any opportunity I can to help people understand what we’re asking to do.
Dahl: So obviously we don’t know exactly what revenue potential there might be. Is it safe to say on the record that BVSD is open to partnering to leverage the dark fiber? Are local and cities and towns interested?
Moore: Yes. We are very interested in partnering with any private entity that may want to utilize our fiber and that actually helps the community as well, because if a private entity needs to get fiber from one place to another and we already have fiber in the ground, they don’t have to tear up the ground, they don’t have to bore, they don’t have to do all those disruptive things simply because we already have the fiber. In theory that would allow us to generate revenue to lease fiber. With regard to municipalities or school districts we can today enter into those partnerships, just so long as those entities, say the City of Boulder, are not using it to provide Internet services. So if we are able to get the override permission from our voters, then we would also be able to enter into agreements with cities like Boulder who have already gotten the override so if they wanted to provide internet services they could do that over our fiber as well.
Dahl: The ballot question does not add any tax increase. You’re not proposing fiber-to-the-home or some other expensive project like Longmont is undertaking. Is there a scenario you could see where once the exemption passes, assuming it does, where you would be going back to voters to ask for money?
Moore: No. I don’t see a scenario where we would go back to ask for money. It’s really the opposite of that. If we get permission, I would be going out to private entities to see if i couldn’t generate revenue. If I was able to generate revenue that would go into our general fund and it would be at the board of education’s discretion on how to best spend that money.
Dahl: Let’s talk about one other key part of this discussion which we haven’t yet, the path forward to address underserved neighborhoods.
Moore: The achievement gap, also known as the homework gap, or the digital divide. A student may go home and they maybe didn’t quite understand the lesson. We worry in the school district for those students who go home and there’s no Internet or no device to get on the Internet, and that creates a gap. We are doing what we can to remove that gap from providing on a pilot basis at two of our high schools, digital devices at Centaurus and Broomfield High to help along those lines, but you have to have Internet capabilities as well. So that is where partnerships come in which one day could allow us to go to more of the housing developments to once again reduce the digital divide, reduce the homework gap, and to create an equal playing field for opportunity for our students.
Dahl: Talk about your printing press in every backpack concept.
Moore: A printing press in every backpack, the concept of that is if you’ve got a digital device, a Chromebook, a laptop, an iPad if that’s in your backpack it is the gateway. It’s the window into nearly infinite amounts of knowledge and information and learning that can happen.
Dahl: Last question. Given that a dozen communities have voted for SB152 exemptions already, is it time for the state general assembly to revisit this issue and let this patchwork process cease?
Moore: I think it would make all of our lives easier if the state would revisit it because it does take time and energy to put something to a vote. The good news is though that there is the provision to do exactly what a number of cities have done before us. There is a mechanism to work through this if you really want to. Of course I would love to have an even playing field and not have to do what we’re doing. But the laws were put in place for a purpose and I can respect that.
Dahl: Thanks for much for your time, Andrew Moore, BVSD, leading the charge on addressing the needs of students in the digital era. Really appreciate you speaking to Boulder Weekly and KGNU.
Moore: You are welcome.