What do schools do with old technology?

Posted at 7:00 AM, Apr 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-01 07:00:07-04

CINCINNATI -- As schools increasingly incorporate technology into learning, district officials have many things to consider – from the degree of digital engagement students should have to which computers to purchase.

When buying new electronics, superintendents, school board members and technology directors also have to think about what will be done with old technology. While they differ in what they consider unfit for use, all districts from time to time must dispose of technology deemed “surplus.”

“We pretty much use things until they don’t work,” said Rob Amodio, superintendent for the Norwood City School District.

A large purchase of Google Chromebooks two years ago put the district at a 1:1 technology to student ratio. District officials purchase two new pieces of technology each year as well, to keep items like projectors and interactive whiteboards up to date.

With mostly new technology, Norwood schools haven’t needed to get rid of much recently. The district generally disposes of “a couple pieces” of technology each year, Amodio said.

“We don’t really have anything in the way of what I would call excess,” he said.

The district minimizes the need to dispose of electronics by using things until they no longer work.

“We will not dispose of it until it’s inoperable,” Amodio said.

Other districts, like Hamilton City Schools, operate on an asset refresh cycle, getting rid of and purchasing technology based on a set number of years. District officials stagger the cycles by grade levels to spread out large purchases.

The cycle varies depending on the type of technology, but the district refreshes its computer supply every five years, said Zach Vander Veen, director of technology for Hamilton City Schools.

“By that fifth year, they’re getting old and slow and antiquated,” he said.

Some items, like core switches, have a longer lifetime of five to 10 years, while others, like projectors, fall into the five-year cycle along with computers.

“Five years is sort of the standard,” Vander Veen said.

Although some districts will sell or donate outdated electronics to other districts, Hamilton City Schools works with an environmentally safe recycling company to dispose of old electronics.

“That’s one of the obstacles is making sure you’re using a reputable recycler,” said Tim Kimmel, vice president of Cleanlites Recycling.

Cleanlites Recycling provides residential, corporate, health care and school waste management services, recycling light bulbs, batteries, office supplies and computers, among other things. The Cincinnati-based company works with districts including Deer Park, Mason, Fairfield and Cincinnati Public Schools.

When recycling electronics, school district officials should ensure the company they work with destroys all data and follows Environmental Protection Agency regulations to protect the environment from hazardous materials, like lead and phosphorous powder, Kimmel said.

Mount Healthy City Schools don’t yet have a five-year technology plan up and running, but district officials are working on one, said Superintendent Reva Cosby.

For now, the district generally replaces electronics after about six or seven years.

“Basically, when things start to get between six and seven years old, they get really slow,” Cosby said.

The district got new technology at all schools when new buildings were constructed about five years ago, she said.

Like Norwood, Mount Healthy schools have little in the way of surplus, and the computers that aren’t in use generally are used for parts for repairs.

“It just changes so constantly, and we are of course trying to keep up for our kids,” Cosby said.