Schools opt out of laptop plan

By Walter Griffin,
Posted June 30, 2009, at 9:24 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — While thousands of Maine high school students will receive new laptop computers this fall through an expansion of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, not every school is jumping aboard.

The Maine Department of Education announced this week that it has placed an order for more than 64,000 Apple MacBooks for students and faculty in grades seven through 12, and will place an additional order for up to 7,000 more in the coming weeks.

MLTI has provided Apple notebook computers to all Maine middle school students since 2002, making Maine the first and only state providing laptops for every student.

Department of Education Communications Director David Connerty-Marin said Tuesday that of the state’s 119 high schools, 57 have confirmed they will take part in the program and another eight were in the planning stages.

The remaining 54 high schools have decided against joining the program.

“They have opted out for this time and maybe in four years they will take another look at it,” Connerty-Marin said.

Brewer High School is among those that took a pass. Superintendent of Schools Dan Lee said his school board rejected the offer of new laptops for its 800 high school students because of uncertainties with the program and concerns about its cost.

“It’s not a bad idea,” Lee said of the MLTI program, “just not in these economic times. It will generate work for Apple, but not for the local economy.”

Maine Commissioner of Education Susan Gendron said in a press release that “we have seen incredible success with our middle schools showing increased student engagement and achievement with MLTI in place and we want to bring this same opportunity to our high schools. This is not just about technology — it’s about using the technology to support education. Apple has been a great partner and consistently demonstrates that it understands the need to provide a complete solution that puts education first. We’re very excited about the new school year.”

The cost of the program, which is shared by the state and the individual school units, will be approximately $68 million, or $242 per laptop for each of the next four years, Connerty-Marin said. He said the money is not a new expenditure and will be taken from a targeted fund that requires schools to invest in student-centered technology. The state will provide about one-half of the overall cost of the program.

“It’s not just the lease of a laptop, it’s full repair and replacement. It’s professional development for teachers and extensive software applications,” he said. “It’s a complete educational system.”

Lee said the state’s laptop program would have cost the school department more than $180,000 over four years. He said the department is looking into providing netbooks to its students at one-fourth the cost. He said the netbooks would not have all the “bells and whistles” the MacBook offers, “but not every kid does a movie every day.” He said netbooks would be able to access the Internet through a common server and were more durable than the larger MacBook.

“This was a tough budget year, next year probably won’t be any easier and who knows what the year after will be like,” Lee said. “I don’t want to be in a position where we are laying off personnel to pay for laptops.”

Lee noted that the Brewer school board’s stand on laptops differed little from that of the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs. Lee said the committee advised schools in a letter that it could not support using General Purpose Aid to fund the laptop program due to the significant state budget shortfalls in the current year and into the near-term future.

“However, we recognize that this proposal offers local school units the option of voluntarily participating in the expansion of the laptop program into the high school grades,” the June 2 letter stated. “Our recommendation to local school units is caveat emptor or ‘let the buyer beware.’”

For more information on the Maine Learning Technology Initiative visit maine.gov/mlti.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/06/30/politics/schools-opt-out-of-laptop-plan/ printed on July 30, 2014