Whitewater School Board approves purchase to replace outdated tech

      The Whitewater Unified School District is planning to use some of its allocated COVID-19 relief funding from federal officials to replace outdated wireless technology.

      Director of Technology John Houwers went before the School Board on Nov. 28 and received the go-ahead to enter into a $157,996 contract with Ruckus Networks, a technology firm that provides such services as wireless access points.

      WWUSD’s current infrastructure setup of wireless access points is on the cusp of obsolescence, Houwers said, which could pose problems in the road ahead if funds are not directed toward the issue.

      Houwers said he first learned of the urgent need of addressing the existing wireless access points this past summer, when he attempted to renew a service agreement for the current infrastructure, but only was able to do so through this fall.

      The current system has not been sold since July of 2020. As time goes by, Houwers said it will grow increasingly difficult to have it serviced.

      “The end of service date is coming up,” Houwers said. “That basically is the last day anything will be serviced by the company at all with these access points.”

      As is the case with many large venues, WWUSD has in place a number of wireless access points throughout its various schools that enable users to connect to the Internet via WiFi.

      WWUSD currently has in place a total of 208 indoor access points and 14 outdoor access points.

      Based on conversations he has had, Houwers said there would still be a nominal amount of support offered if the district would maintain a status-quo approach. But critical technical issues, including “patching” — would come to an end in short order.

      In the world of software, patching refers to a fix or repair job for a piece of programming that is designed to resolve functional deficiencies.

      Speaking to the end of patching for the current system, Houwers said, “I found that alarming and wanted to get ahead of it as quickly as I could, knowing that there are some supply chain issues.”

      Prior to bringing his proposal to the School Board, Houwers said he solicited bids and received four quotes and service packages from different companies.

      Ruckus did not provide the lowest bid, but did receive Houwers recommendation because of its menu of offerings within the package. Among them: more in-house capabilities to address issues as they arise and cloud configuration technical assistance.

      Prior to the vote, School Board member Maryann Zimmerman inquired how the $157,996 purchase would fit into the district’s technology fund within the broader budget for the current 2022-23 school year.

      “To do it straight out of my tech budget, it would take up 60 percent, so it wouldn’t fit,” Houwers said.

      However, technology upgrades are a qualifying expense through the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, program that was instituted at the height of the pandemic, meaning direct funds out of the district budget would not be necessary.

      The School Board voted unanimously in favor of the expenditure.

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