"I gotta say: What did we do before computers?" a frustrated Michael DeBell asked at a board work session last week. "I'm reluctant to accept that ... technology is limiting our policymaking process."
I get his frustration but we're living in 2008. There's really no way to change the assignment plan without changing the technology (unless you like holding your breath and hoping no major disaster occurs).
"Steve Nielsen, chief financial officer from 2002 through December 2006, said parts were hard to find when he arrived in the district, and officials worried the VAX system would crash permanently. But the district had more pressing financial concerns at the time, he said.
"We were trying to avoid laying off teachers, and we kept the infrastructure going with bubble gum and baling wire."Some history:
"The VAX was first sold in 1979, and early models were about as big as two refrigerators. Hank Levy, chairman of the UW's computer-science and engineering department, was part of the team that designed its operating system. The VAX on display in the lobby of the department's Paul G. Allen Center was an early model that Levy said at one time "ran our entire department."
Today, however, any current-generation PC is a supercomputer compared with a VAX, he said, even a later-model VAX such as the ones in use at Seattle school headquarters.
"It was a great system for its day, but its day is long past," Levy said.
Although it's hard to compare computing power of different systems, he also said that, in rough terms, even the later-model VAXes have only about 1/20th the power of an iPhone.
The model used by Seattle is "much less of a dinosaur," he added, "but it's still a dinosaur."
Nevertheless, Levy said he knows that many VAXes and even older computers are still in use. They often run customized software that, like the assignment system in Seattle schools, can't be transferred to newer machines."Less power than an iPhone. Yikes.
I appreciate that the Board wants to take on the huge challenge that is the assignment plan. But I think Mr. Kennedy is being very wise to want to do it the best way possible for the best outcomes possible. One extra year, after years of not doing anything, isn't going to be that bad. I would allow plenty of time for the community input that changing the assignment plan needs. The feedback that the Board receives from this input, plus the extra time they will have because of the VAX situation, would give them time to tweak the plan.
It's not the worst thing to take time to plan and get input.