BY KATHY CHANG
WOODBRIDGE — With an estimated annual cost savings of $200,000, the Woodbridge School District has embarked on owning its own fiber optic network.
“We have been working on this for a couple of years now,” said Schools Superintendent Robert Zega.
The Board of Education approved a number of budget transfers at a board meeting on March 21 from the Attendance Swipe System, computer training, contracted services for labs, educational services, online text/courses, software licenses, software/media, and teacher evaluation software line items totaling $319,331.86 into the capital supplies for technology line item.
Zega said the district is in the midst of completing a fiber project that will connect all 24 schools to fiber optic technology; however, they ran into a “little snafu.”
“Fiber as you know has to cross the [N.J. Turnpike] and over the different bridges,” he said, explaining that the project incurred additional costs because of the crossings over the bridges.
Zega said they unfortunately had to take the incurred additional costs out of the tech supply line, which was earmarked for access points.
“Rather than wait until next budget [year] to finance the access points, we were able to look at other lines in the curriculum that we could take some of the money where it was over budgeted or under budgeted and move that extra money into capital so we can do these access points as they were budgeted this year and not wait for next year,” he said.
Board member Brian Molnar noted that the transfers are hefty and asked if it would affect the programs that the money was taken out of.
Zega said all the transfers will have no affect on the programs.
He said during the budget process, they estimate what, for example, software licenses are going to cost.
“In this case, we came under budget [for software licenses],” he said.
Zega said the fiber optic technology project is monumental for the district.
“Previous to the project, we had been paying Verizon for the use of their copper line for data,” he said. “By building our own fiber optic network, it will be ours [and] nobody else will be on it and [second] it will provide a lot more bandwidth so it’s a tremendous upgrade to our bandwidth.”
Zega said with the continued push of technology district wide, it results in more online users in the schools.
“We’re almost at a point now where so many students are on the Internet in the schools and the old Verizon copper lines can’t handle our bandwidth,” he said.
Zega said the upgrade to the fiber is something that the district really needs to enhance speed connectivity at all the schools.
“The access points go along with that so the more users we have the more access points we need and the more bandwidth we need,” he said. “The best thing about it and probably the most unique thing about it is we will be one of the very few districts in the state or even the country that owns their own fiber network.”
With its own fiber network, the district will not have to pay Verizon for the use of their copper lines, which will come out to an annual savings of more than $200,000.
Zega said the $200,000 savings will go toward paying off the borrowed money that the district used for the fiber project for the first five years.
“In the future, this will be something that we own rather than rent,” he said.
Zega said many of the schools already are connected by the fiber and noted that during the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) testing last year at the schools that were connected experienced much less connectivity issues.
“There was better speed and better bandwidth,” he said.
However, Zega said the implementation of the fiber optic technology is not just for PARCC testing, adding that the district’s goal is to make sure all classrooms are wireless accessible.
“We want to have the potential for all our students to be online at the same time and continue to have 100 percent connectivity in every classroom,” he said.