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Scarborough School Board seeks laptop computers for high school students

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Scarborough School Board seeks laptop computers for high school students

SCARBOROUGH — Every student at Scarborough High School will have a laptop computer to use at school and at home next year if voters approve the school budget in May.

The School Board April 1 unanimously passed a $1.16 million capital improvement plan budget. It represents a 23.2 percent reduction in capital expenses from this year, and includes borrowing nearly $669,000 to purchase laptop computers for just over 1,000 students at the high school.

It also comes on the heels of large-scale cuts of teachers and support staff throughout the district.

"It is hard for us, as a town, to justify getting laptops when we're cutting positions," said Scarborough High School junior Abby Van Note, one of two student representatives on the school board.

The School Board approved a $34.9 million budget that eliminates 34.8 jobs, adopts a pay-to-play athletic and extra-curricular program and eliminates popular events such as the art show.

School Board Chairman Brian Dell'Olio explained that the laptops will be paid for with a bond, not by the same money that is used to pay teacher salaries.

"Even if we didn't buy any laptops, that doesn't mean any teachers will keep their jobs," he said.

He compared the purchase to buying something with a credit card.

"You don't want to pay for something longer than you'll use it. You can't use a teacher's salary for more than one year. The computers will last multiple years, so you can fund them with capital improvement," Dell'Olio said.

However, the reappropriation of nearly $107,000 in General Purpose Aid from the state was also a determining factor in approving the computer program, as it makes money in the operating budget available for teacher education and support in implementation.

"This shows that technology is a priority," Dell'Olio said. "We're not just throwing something in (the budget) because we have no regard for what's going on. This keeps our district moving forward."

Scarborough now provides laptop computers to all its middle school students. Beginning next year, every student at the high school will have gone through the middle school program.

"I think this is the year to go forward with this. I don't think we have more years to wait," School Board member Jane Wiseman said.

Curriculum Director Monique Culbertson said the district would purchase new PC-based laptops and cases for all the students enrolled at the high school.

"We did an informal survey of the staff and found that more than half of them were using some online curriculum and going to the computer lab regularly," she said.

Culbertson said teachers struggle with scheduling and making sure students have access to the school's 200 desktop computers in the labs. She added that many textbooks have begun to offer supplemental and interactive materials online to complement lessons.

During last week's School Board meeting, the student representatives expressed concerns that the laptops would not be utilized by teachers and would go to waste.

Culbertson said she is currently investigating options for online development that teachers could access from home and may also bring middle school teachers to the high school to discuss classroom implementation techniques. She said she is also planning some forums with the high school students to get their perspective on the best methods of implementation.

"We want to encourage student participation. Students come up with great ideas that we wouldn't ever think of," Culbertson said.

In addition to the laptops for the students, the district will also spend $292,400 to purchase laptops for all of its kindergarten-grade 5 teachers, bringing the total cost of the technology plan at $961,000. It leaves $198,000 in capital improvement funds for facilities.

"The new facilities director has taken out maintenance items and funded them through his operating budget," Dell'Olio said.

He said that, in addition to some cost savings in facilities, the district made a conscious decision to support technology purchases, while still keeping the capital improvement budget low.

"This is an important priority. We've been working on this plan for several years," Dell'Olio said.

After a public hearing on the budget on April 28, the Town Council will vote to send the school budget to a May 11 referendum.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net