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SAD 75 board budget vote set for May 14; laptop computers on tap

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SAD 75 board budget vote set for May 14; laptop computers on tap

TOPSHAM — The School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors is scheduled to vote on a fiscal 2010 budget at its Thursday, May 14, meeting.

In the meantime, public budget forums are scheduled to be held at the Bowdoinham Community School on Tuesday, May 5, and at Woodside Elementary School in Topsham on Wednesday, May 6. Both meetings begin at 7 p.m. A previous forum was held at Harpswell Islands School on Tuesday evening.

The nearly $36 million spending plan is an increase of about $18,000 over the current year. The total local contribution through taxes is about $19 million, a decrease of nearly 1 percent. This cost, spread over SAD 75's four towns, creates decreases of 2.34 percent in Topsham and 0.52 percent in Harpswell, and increases of 0.42 percent in Bowdoin and 1.94 percent in Bowdoinham.

One proposed addition to programming next year, which would be funded with existing money and not come out of the fiscal 2010 budget, is the introduction of laptop computers for every student at Mt. Ararat High School.

The state's laptop program allowed SAD 75's seventh- and eighth-graders to use the devices to enhance their educational experience, and extending that program to the high school would allow students advancing beyond middle school to continue to use the machines, SAD 75 Superintendent Mike Wilhelm said on Tuesday.

"Here you've got kids in grade 7 and 8, they're working off a laptop for two years, and suddenly it goes away when they go to high school," Wilhelm said.

Noting the instructional alternatives for teachers and the instant access of students to information and primary-source documents on the Internet, the superintendent said, "I don't think we've even begun to explore the power of what you can do this way for kids."

SAD 75 would fund the laptops over four years, paying a quarter of the total cost for each year. The laptops would cost about $215,000 for fiscal 2010, supplying the machines to nearly 900 students. The cost would be about $242 per student per year.

Enrollments are projected to decrease, so by fiscal 2013 – the final year of the laptop purchase plan – the laptop cost would be about $200,000, supplying the devices for about 830 students. "We don't have to continue to pay for those (unused) laptops if we have fewer kids," Wilhelm said. "It's a laptop per kid every year."

Funding for the program would come from special education stimulus money for laptops used by special education students, as well as from stimulus money returned for the current fiscal year that will be used as carryover next year. The rest would come from the district's technology budget, since SAD 75's purchase of the laptops would allow the district to move those computers currently in high school computer labs to other schools in the district.

"The board is still making a decision about that," Wilhelm said, "but as far as we're concerned at this point it will not affect the bottom line in the budget."

SAD 75 would receive the laptops for a reduced price and has, at no added cost, the ability to replace or repair each laptop, free battery replacements for four years, staff development and technical support for teachers and a pool of laptops to give students a replacement if the computers become disabled. The district would also receive the infrastructure needed within the school to make Internet connectivity available where required, and the laptops come with $250,000-worth of educational software.

The district budget meeting, where residents will approve the budget in a Town Meeting-style gathering, will be held Saturday, May 30. The budget validation referendum will follow on Tuesday, June 9.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.