Washington school officials use tax dollars to buy TVs, iPods, computers

SEATTLE — Administrators in some Washington school districts are allowed to use taxpayer dollars to buy personal technology ranging from computers to iPods.

This perk can help superintendents and central office staff keep up with technology and take advantage of equipment like digital camcorders to facilitate staff training and record student activities, explains Paul Rosier, executive director of the Washington Association of School Administrators.

But in school districts where there are few restrictions on what the technology money can be used for, purchases like big-screen TVs and home-theater equipment are becoming more common, a Seattle newspaper reported.

Top managers and supervisors in the Northshore School District are allowed to spend $1,800 over three years to purchase personal technology for home use and be reimbursed with district money. The purchases do not have to be job-related and prior approval isn’t required.

All but 13 of the eligible 93 administrators in Northshore have taken advantage of the benefit under the current contract, which runs through June 2009, spending a total of $119,000 to date, The Times found by requesting a copy of the reimbursement records from the district under the state’s public records law.

Some of the money was used to buy big-screen TVs, camcorders, home-theater equipment and iPods and if the employees leave the district, they are allowed to keep the equipment.

“Having access to a technology fund for the kind of technology you need in this world today is not a bad thing,” Rosier said Wednesday, but he cautioned that this kind of perk can be abused if parameters and clear approval processes are not in place.

“You want to make sure that the technology is for the goals of the school district,” Rosier added.

A technology fund may be the best way to make sure administrators have access to new technology, Rosier said: “One of the problems with technology is it’s almost obsolete at the time you buy it.”

He did not know how common these funds are among Washington school districts. Each district has a separate contract or agreement with its administrators. Rosier was aware of a few that do have technology funds, but handle their administration differently.

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