June 19, 2018
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Brewer refuses laptop initiative, citing hidden costs

By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff

BREWER, Maine — The school committee voted unanimously last week not to participate in the expanded laptop initiative to provide portable computers to high school students, and on Monday, presented the City Council with the news.

“We wanted to, we really did,” Superintendent Daniel Lee said before the meeting. “The problem is, it’s going to cost us $184,000 a year for four years, and that’s just for the laptop, not the maintenance.”

After adding all the additional costs together, providing the 750-plus students at Brewer High School with individual laptop computers was deemed too expensive, he said. The board voted unanimously not to participate in the program during a special May 20 meeting.

“These are very uncertain financial times,” Lee said. “I’m scared to commit myself to four years.”

Gov. John Baldacci announced the expanded Maine Learning Technology Initiative in March, which would provide laptops to all students in grades seven through 12, at a cost of $243 per unit.

The state did not allocate any funds for the laptop initiative, but each school unit in the state gets designated technology funds, totaling around $279 per student. Brewer leaders are planning to use a portion of those funds to purchase the computers that teachers were allocated last year, Lee said

“We’ll increase our laptops by 69 computers, but we’re not going to do one-on-one deployments,” he said.

Seventh- and eighth-graders statewide, including those in Brewer, have participated in the program since 2002. Experience from participating in the middle school program is one reason why Brewer school officials knew there are hidden costs associated with the initiative, such as upgrading systems to provide a secure Internet connection, insurance and technology support.

“These are not easy times,” Lee said. The decision was made “to help … reduce the pain taxpayers would have felt if we didn’t.”

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