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In one of his most practical, yet farsighted, proposals since being hired as superintendent almost nine months ago, Wayne Alexander today will ask the Hernando County School Board to drastically change the way it procures and delivers computers and their related technology. It makes such good sense that it causes us to wonder why it wasn't done sooner.

Recognizing that more than half the district's computers are obsolete, Alexander has hatched a plan to keep them up-to-date by leasing the equipment, rather than purchasing it. Through an agreement with Dell Computer, the district would get the use of 11,000 new machines, which is about 600 more than it uses now. The price is $8.1-million spread out over four years; it includes on-site training, technical support and replacements for those that malfunction.

When the lease is up, the district could either buy the depreciated computers or enter a new multiyear lease and get a batch of updated models.

It is closer to truth than exaggeration to say that in the time it takes to buy a new computer and get it running, it already is outdated. That's how fast the technology is changing and it is a distressing reality that Hernando, like too many other school districts in Florida and across the country, has not kept pace with the progress.

Hernando's approach to purchasing computers has been particularly random for the past 15 or so years. Employees have complained for years about the inability of different networks to connect and indiscriminate use of software resources.

Alexander has recognized that shortcoming in the administrative and operational divisions, and sees the importance of doing something about it as soon as possible. But, although it is vital to make the information technology for employees more uniform, he understands that keeping it accessible and current in the classroom is where it really makes a difference.

In a district that has grown as rapidly as Hernando in the past few years, that need is more apparent than ever. Just like bricks and mortar, and textbooks and teachers, computers with the latest technology are essential to provide quality education to our children. It improves the school district's ability to serve the community by providing a more-employable, better-educated work force, which is a lure for new businesses and higher-paying jobs, and a deterrent against indigence and crime.

But mostly, it ensures that Hernando County's students are at least on a level playing field with, and perhaps even have an advantage over, their peers when they enter college or the job market.

That commitment from taxpayers to these young people should be fundamental, and this proposal by Alexander speaks directly to that shared responsibility.

School Board members should be keen to support the plan.