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SAD 75 meeting sends $36M budget, with computers, to voters

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SAD 75 meeting sends $36M budget, with computers, to voters

TOPSHAM — Voters in School Administrative District 75 supported a $36.25 million fiscal 2010 budget at the district budget meeting May 30, paving the way for a budget validation referendum on Tuesday, June 9.

While voters passed nearly every component of the budget with little to no discussion, funding the first of a four-year payment program for laptop computers at Mt. Ararat High School received the most attention. Through this state-based initiative, every student will have a computer, and the district is funding at least the first year without having to draw from local coffers.

The computers cost $215,000 for next year, with some money coming from special education stimulus funds for laptops used by special education students, as well as money from the district's technology budget. The other $93,000, also from federal stimulus funds, comes out of the $3.3 million staff and student support budget line.

David I. Chipman of Harpswell proposed an amendment to remove $93,000 from that budget line, and hence not fund the computers.

"It's my understanding that the high school students who've had experience with the laptops in the junior high don't want the laptops," he said, adding that they do not want the burden of carrying around and caring for the machines. "... And after the initial influx of stimulus money, we would be responsible for paying for the rest of the program in years to come."

Chipman suggested that a less expensive measure, such as expanding the computer lab to allow greater access for students, might be a better option.

Superintendent Mike Wilhelm countered that he did not think Chipman was speaking for all high school students. While some may reflect the sentiments Chipman expressed, Wilhelm said, many other students see the value of having laptops.

"We have a faculty that is convinced that in the 21st century, the computer is an essential tool to whatever we do," Wilhelm said. "If you look in the workplace, they're everywhere."

While the district has sought for years to introduce laptop computers at the high school, affordability has been a stumbling block, Wilhelm continued. He added that the laptops come with $250,000-worth of education software.

SAD 75 Board of Directors Chairman Dee Carrier said the decision was difficult.

"We have turned down funding the item in years past just solely because of money," she Carrier said. "Now we have an opportunity through the state program and the stimulus money to provide 21st century learning."

Mt. Ararat High School Principal Craig King said he was aware of the misgivings some students have about the laptops. The concerns tend to be "regulatory" and "logistical" in nature, he said, adding that the care, use and storage of the devices could be cumbersome. A high school committee will address the optimal uses of the devices, he said.

"We want these to be a wonderful tool for these kids to really extend their education," King said. "... We don't want these to be a burden for these students; we want these to be something that's really going to enrich their instruction."

James McKernan of Topsham, a former Mt. Ararat High student, said he attended the middle school at the time the laptop program was introduced. He said he found many students using the laptops not as educational tools, but for more recreational uses, such as video games.

"If we're paying for these laptops, I just want to make sure that the majority of the time they're actually being used for educational purposes," McKernan said.

Chipman's motion was defeated, and voters approved the article as originally stated.

The proposed budget is up 0.79 percent over current spending. Taxes to be paid by residents of Topsham, Harpswell, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham total nearly $19 million, a decrease of 1.14 percent.

The meeting at the Orion Center at Mt. Ararat Middle School attracted 108 voters, a number that eventually dwindled to 78.

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