SOUTH PORTLAND — After about 25 minutes Monday, South Portland Councilor Jerry Jalbert said he would move next Monday to reconsider the June 3 vote that blocked the purchase of iPads for city high school students.
His rapid reconsideration at a council workshop did not mean a crowd of about 125 people was leaving quietly.
Almost 40 people ranging from middle schoolers to teachers and parents criticized the 3-3 first vote that blocked spending $785,000 as part of the Maine Technology Learning Initiative.
The deadlocked June 3 vote defeated the spending order. Jalbert was joined in opposition by councilors Melissa Linscott and Michael Pock, and any one of them could reopen the question.
The purchase was supported by councilors Linda Cohen and Patti Smith and Mayor Tom Blake.
Whether in support of the iPads School Department Technology Director Andrew Wallace favors for use from seventh through 12th grade, or for computer technology in general, speakers told councilors they needed to grasp the changing facets of education.
“I’m just astounded at the irony,” veteran South Portland High School science teacher Ralph Newell said. “I started teaching here 47 years ago, and in that year, there was an argument for one-to-one use by students of slide rules. We’ve come a long way and we don’t want to regress.”
Newell said his students use digital technology throughout the curriculum.
“We don’t read about it, we study it. These devices allow us to do things we could not have done a few years ago,” he said.
Iris SanGiovanni, winner as a sophomore of a 2011 Maine Association of Broadcasters Award for a radio story on homelessness, told councilors providing digital devices to students equalized opportunities to learn.
“My family doesn’t have the means to get a home computer, let alone a laptop for my sister and I,” she said.
SanGiovanni graduated Sunday and said her laptop allowed her to apply to colleges online, which also saved money.
“I can’t even imagine what my high school career would have looked like if I didn’t have the one-to-one laptop available to me,” she said.
The MLTI program provides state funding for devices for seventh- and eighth-graders and leases the devices for high schoolers with local district funding.
In May, the Maine Department of Education and Gov. Paul LePage renewed the program with five options for local school districts and the HP 4400 as primary device.
Wallace anticipated Apple would be primary vendor. He views iPads, at $217 annual cost for four years, as a better choice than HP 4400s at $254 annually.
Devices are leased for four years with an option to buy, Godin said. The laptops currently used at the high school were bought with federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds in 2009. Local money to buy new devices has been accrued in a reserve fund since then.
A council reversal to buy the devices, required by charter because the purchase exceeds $40,000, carries legal implications, as Colchester Road resident Albert DiMillo Jr. promised a suit in Cumberland County Superior Court.
DiMillo said the iPads can be bought for at least $260,000 less than the price offered by the state, and are getting paid for upfront so the School Department can justify accumulated reserves.
“You have the technology budget, use it,” DiMillo implored.
Jalbert, Linscott and Pock said their opposing votes were fiscally based and reflected a lack of information about the program.
It was a claim School Board member Rick Matthews was not happy to hear.
“I’m asking councilors to do your homework before the meetings so we don’t end up in a situation like this.” he said.