TOPSHAM — The School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors on Thursday approved a $36.3 million budget for fiscal 2010.
The budget – which must still be approved at a district budget meeting Saturday, May 30, and by a budget validation referendum Tuesday, June 9 – includes the introduction of laptops for every student at Mt. Ararat High School, year one of a four-year payment program.
The laptops would cost about $215,000 for fiscal 2010 and supply the machines to nearly 900 students. The cost would be about $242 per student per year.
Next year’s laptop payment would come from three revenue sources and not add to the tax burden for fiscal 2010. Those sources include special education stimulus money for laptops used by special education students, and stimulus money returned for the current fiscal year that will be used as carryover next year.
The third source would be 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.
Taxpayers are pegged to pay nearly $19 million across the district: $7.2 million in Topsham, $7.5 million in Harpswell, $2 million in Bowdoin $2.2 million in Bowdoinham.
Board members David Johnson struggled with the decision.
“I am concerned about the money, especially in the third and fourth year,” he said. Still, he added that the devices have strong support in the schools and that they have become essential learning tools for students.
“There is a laptop program in the middle school. There is not one in the high school,” Johnson said. “… It seems like it’s a space that needs to be filled.”
Fellow Finance Committee member Roland Tufts added that “it’s also important that we provide a level playing field for all our students and give them the ability and the enabler to be as successful as possible. And there are students today who don’t have access to this type of technology, so I think it’s our duty to provide that tool to them.”
Board member Joanne Rogers also supported the program.
“As many times as I might disagree with the state and the federal government,” she said, “this is one case when if we don’t do this, we will truly have left a child behind, and this is not the time or the place to do it.”
Kim Totten, a Finance Committee member who voted against inclusion of the laptops, said she was “not a fan” of the state’s laptop program. She said the state does not always keep its promises, and she has “concern with us jumping in this full-force and getting hooked and finding ourselves dangling out there. I’m all for technology in the school for our kids … I just do not believe this program at this time is right.”
Totten and fellow board member Jane Meisenbach cast the two dissenting votes against the final budget. Still, Totten said she still intended to vote in favor of the budget on May 30. The final vote was 12-2 in favor of including the laptops in the budget.
Lisa Rogers, a student representative to the board and a senior at Mt. Ararat High, offered a unique perspective on the laptop program.
“I do not support the laptops,” she said. “I have spent the last four years without a laptop … I have never had a problem going to a computer lab after school, or in the morning, or during study hall, and getting my work done that way.”
She pointed out that she has heard from freshmen – who spent their junior high years with laptops – that they are glad not to have to carry them and their related equipment around anymore. “For a lot of the freshmen, they’re glad to not have them, and for a lot of seniors, we’ve managed (without them). … Most people have a computer at home, and those who don’t, have … plenty of access to it at school.”
Funding for the program would come both from special education stimulus money for laptops used by special education students, and from stimulus money returned for the current fiscal year that will be used next year as carryover. The district’s technology budget would supply the rest, 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.
SAD 75 would receive the laptops for a reduced price. The district has, at no additional cost, the ability to replace or repair each laptop, free battery replacements for four years, staff development and technical support for teachers, as well as a pool of laptops to give students as replacements if the computers become disabled. The district would also receive the infrastructure necessary within the school to make Internet connectivity available where required, and the laptops come with $250,000-worth of educational software.
Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or email@example.com.