Proposal would give Portland students netbook PCs instead of Apple laptops

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PORTLAND — The School Committee on Wednesday will hear a proposal by the superintendent of schools to put laptop computers into the hands of high school students.

The plan, however, does not involve joining the state’s laptop computer initiative. 

Superintendent James Morse said his plan would buy about 2,200 netbook PCs for high school students and buy back about 1,800 Apple laptop computers from middle school students, which are being replaced by the state. Morse said his plan costs $1.2 million, about half as much as the state’s $2.3 million plan, and includes licenses, service agreements and warranties. 

Netbook computers are small devices with limited memory, designed mostly for Web browsing, e-mail and using Web-based applications. Morse said the netbooks can do about 90 percent of what an Apple MacBook can do, without video or audio editing capabilities. 

“It’s a little less firepower for the kids, but it does meet that one-to-one ratio of computers to students,” he said. Regarding the buy-back of the 3-year-old middle school computers, he said “we have some computers that are 10-plus years old. It would be a dramatic improvement over what we have now.” 

Morse and School Department staff have been scrambling since federal education officials refused to give Portland a waiver that would have allowed the district to use $1.8 million stimulus money earmarked for low-income and special education students to participate in the Maine Laptop Initiative. The funds would have also paid to upgrade the high schools to wireless Internet.

Although Portland will not be participating in the state initiative, Morse said his proposal would satisfy the intent of that program, while also allowing the district to upgrade its computer inventory.

He said the project will be funded by shifting reallocating stimulus and Title I funds within the current budget. 

When the School Committee gave it’s conditional approval to join the state laptop program, netbooks were briefly discussed, but dismissed in favor of the state laptop plan.

At that time, committee member Justin Costa said he did not consider netbooks a feasible option. But now that the federal waiver has been denied, Costa said he is open to Morse’s proposal, especially since the plan includes an emphasis on installing wireless networks in the high schools.

“Jim (Morse) understands we have a technology deficiency in the district,” Costa said. “The worst at all is to not have technology in the hands of kids.” 

The School Committee will meet Wednesday, Aug. 5, at 7 p.m. in room 250, of Casco Bay High School, 196 Allen Ave. 

Randy Billings cab be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or