Computer costs command attention at Scarborough budget forum

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SCARBOROUGH — A proposal to provide computers to each high school student next year dominated discussion at Wednesday night’s Town Council budget forum.

The final reading of the approximately $44 million fiscal 2016 school budget, which would be an increase of about 13 percent over current spending, is scheduled for May 20. The budget referendum is on June 9. 

Most comments focused on the proposal for one-to-one technology at Scarborough High School.

About this time each year, School Board member Kelly Murphy said, “it seems I have to come and defend our intentions. We are good and conscientious stewards of the taxpayers’ money.

“Buying laptops for our students (should be) no more a gift than buying a math book, microscope or indoor plumbing.”

Murphy noted that all town councilors are provided with iPads to fulfill their duties. “Let’s stop playing politics with our students and allow them the same opportunity,” she said.

School Board member Jodi Shea also addressed the council, and carried an armful of textbooks to “show you what high school students are currently learning from.”

The books ranged from 10-17 years old. In the history book, Shea said, the world population was recorded as only 6 billion, Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 had not happened, and President George W. Bush was still in his first term in office.

“The one-to-one technology initiative does not just allow our students to Google something; it opens them to a world of global learning,” Shea said.

But others said the technology proposal adds to a budget that’s already too high. 

“Please don’t let the current school budget go to voters,” resident Michael Turek urged councilors.

Drew Stevens, of Surrey Lane, said he was bothered by the divisiveness of the issue.

“One thing that’s a little concerning is it’s turning into this us versus them. The fact that we’re arguing for computers for our children is ludicrous,” Stevens said. “It’s 2015, of course we need computers for our children.”

Other residents, and Councilor Peter Hayes, called for the cost of one-to-one technology (approximately $866,000 of the Capital Improvement Project budget) to be a separate question on the referendum ballot in June. 

Councilors weighed that possibility, but ultimately decided to take no action other than setting the referendum date.

Hayes said it wasn’t about “whether or not laptops are a good or bad idea,” but rather it’s an effort to facilitate transparency about the CIP. 

Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina said acting on the proposal would be “premature.” 

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.