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Scarborough pushes laptops for high school students

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Scarborough pushes laptops for high school students

SCARBOROUGH — A plan to provide 1,150 laptops to high school students and staff has School Board support, despite an uphill fight the plan may face for public and Town Council approval.

"I think it is an easy sell to this board to convince us that one-to-one computing is necessary at the high school. I think it is a long time coming. My challenge is the $672,000 price tag in one lump sum,” board member Chris Caiazzo said Jan. 16 during a council workshop.

That sum is the estimated cost to buy 1,150 Hewlett Packard laptops with three-year warranties, 60 wireless access points, software and device management programs and accessories.

The costs were outlined in a “business case” presented by Superintendent Dr. George Entwistle III and School Department Director of Information Systems Jennifer Nichtman. Support staff to integrate the computers was not included in the costs.

“You can be assured this will be a budget proposal,” Entwistle added.

Nichtman oversaw the introduction of HP laptops in the middle school last year as part of the Maine Technology Learning Initiative, as well as upgrades to district digital wireless technology and intranet systems.

"(It is) a very low-cost device that comes preloaded with much of the software that we need. It is time, it makes sense to go with this solution,” Nichtman said.

The laptops, quoted at $400 apiece, are slated to increase $70 per unit next year, she added.

In comparison to school districts in Cape Elizabeth, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gorham, Kennebunk, South Portland, Windham, Westbrook and Yarmouth, Scarborough is alone in not providing 1:1 computers or a "bring your own device" program to share online curriculum and cloud technology for classroom learning.

High school students in Cape Elizabeth and South Portland use iPads provided by the districts. In Cape Elizabeth, School Superintendent Meredith Nadeau said Tuesday 420 iPads were purchased for $200,000 in the summer of 2011. An additional 60 for school staff were bought for $29,000 through a grant from the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation. The iPads were distributed in the spring of 2012.

In South Portland, the district replaced laptops last fall with 860 iPads leased through the Maine Learning Technology Initiative. The $785,000 cost was funded with surplus money set aside over several years.

A plan to provide Scarborough high schoolers with laptops stalled when an attempt to spend $668,000 in the fiscal year 2010-2011 capital improvements bond was rejected by Town Councilors by one vote.

The question was not put to a referendum, as required for spending of more than $400,000, because the laptops were not viewed as a single item in legal advice given to Town Manager Tom Hall.

The 2010 plan lacked full student support, as noted by former School Board student representative Abby Van Note, who said the cost was hard to justify in the face of layoffs and other budget cuts.

Veteran School Board member Jackie Perry, long an advocate of computers in schools, summarized what she believes will be a hard fight to get computer funding this year.

“We have to convince students it is in their best interest so they can convince their parents it is in their best interest,” she said.

The case for 1:1 computers was made by Nichtman and School Department Director of Curriculum and Assessment Monique Culbertson, who prefer providing the computers over the bring your own device or "virtual desktop interface" system allowing for shared content at school or home.

The business case concludes that the 1:1 program provides the most seamless access for all students from grades three to 12, with more up-to-date content found in online textbooks. The program would also create more opportunities to take online courses not available at the high school.

Savings estimates are not yet available, but "online resources currently run 33 to 35 percent lower than paper texts," according to the business case.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.