Computers for Scarborough High School students will cost $935K

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SCARBOROUGH — Administrators are proposing purchasing Lenovo flip-model laptop computers for the next school year to transition Scarborough High School to one-to-one technology.

According to an investment proposal presented to the School Board last week, the cost of implementation for the first year would be nearly $935,000, with future years fluctuating between roughly $23,000 and $475,500, depending on repairs. 

Coupled with the purchase of the 1,350 devices for teachers and students is a request to add a full-time technology integrator position at the high school.

One-to-one technology, which would provide a device to each student, is already in place in grades three through eight. 

Seventh- and eighth-grade students at Scarborough Middle School, for example, are provided with an HP 4440 computer through the Maine Learning Technology Initiative. Sixth-grade students are also given laptop computers, but the district leases them through MLTI at a higher cost. 

The initiative dates to 2002, when former Gov. Angus King instituted a statewide plan to provide each middle school student with a computer, intending to prepare them for a changing job market increasingly reliant on the use of technology. 

An MLTI task force organized by King found in 2001 that “if technology is a challenge for our educational system, it is also part of the solution. To move all students to high levels of learning and technological literacy, all students will need access to technology when and where it can be most effectively incorporated into learning.”  

Since the early 2000s, the one-to-one initiative has bled into other grades across the state, to the point that schools who have yet to implement it are in the minority.  Scarborough is one of three high schools left in southern Maine that has not adopted one-to-one technology.

Scarborough High School offers three computer labs with 20 desktop computers for student use, in addition to multiple laptop carts that are shared between classrooms. 

The effort to include a one-to-one technology plan at the high school has had its fair share of ups and downs since it was first proposed in 2010. 

Last year, purchasing 1,150 laptops for high school students was discussed in preliminary budget hearings. In conjunction with the completion of Wentworth School and deployment of new devices there, it was decided that transitioning the high school to one-to-one was unrealistic. 

“We all recognized that we just didn’t have the resources, and we wanted more time to do more research,” Information Systems Director Jennifer Lim said Tuesday. “We felt like if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right.”

Choosing a device

In the last few months, before the search for a device began, input was sought from high school teachers and students.

Lim said she was surprised to discover how many teachers wanted some form of touch-screen device.

“What (teachers are) finding is kids that are coming up from middle school, even your kindergartner, are very comfortable with touch-screen,” she said. That, and newer versions of the Windows operating system (if the devices are rolled out, they will be outfitted with Windows 10) are tailored to the touch-screen option. 

“If you look down the road, I think they’re going to move into a touch-screen requirement,” Lim said of future operating systems. “We wanted to get devices that would meet those future requirements.”

The Lenovo ThinkPad 11e Convertible laptop is particularly appealing because it functions as both a tablet and a laptop, Lim said at the March 19 workshop. It can be used as a traditional laptop with a keyboard, or folded and compacted down to just a screen, which is touch-sensitive. 

The cost for each device is $459. A $25 fee from the family of each student will be required to offset costs for maintenance issues that are not covered under warranty. A similar system is in place at Wentworth and the middle schools.

Infrastructure to support one-to-one technology at the high school has already been installed, Lim said. New wireless access points have been set up, along with more student-accessible printers and a more centralized printing system. The School Department also increased bandwidth at all schools about a year ago.

Superintendent George Entwistle said he and the board have a “general sense” of where the purchase of the devices would fit in the budget.

“The majority of the cost would fit into (the Capital Improvement Plan),” and a “comparatively small amount” of the cost would be carried in the operations budget, Entwistle said. 

Factoring in the large expenditure in the CIP budget would require adjustments in other areas of the budget, “in order to be able to bring in a CIP budget proposal that is at the same level or less than it was last year,” he added.

Adjustments in other areas of the budget include “pulling back on a fairly significant chunk of the facilities requests,” because many of those requests have already been met, specifically the safety-oriented ones, Entwistle said. 

Reconciling other expenditures with the purchase of devices is still something the Finance Committee needs to explore, he said. 

If the Lenovo purchase is approved, teacher training will likely take place during the summer. The devices could be rolled out in October or November.  

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

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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.