May 24, 2018
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Plan to give iPads to kindergartners met with approval and cost questions

By Bonnie Washuk, Sun Journal

AUBURN, Maine — Moments after her daughter worked on writing and pronouncing letters on an iPad 2 Thursday, Natasha Landry said she was happy the Auburn School Committee voted to give kindergartners the tablet computers in the fall.

“It makes it easier for teachers to teach a larger group of kids, one on one, without having more teachers,” Landry said in the hall of Washburn Elementary School.

The $200,000 cost for the iPad 2 tablets will be less than hiring more teachers, she said. “It probably would take four teachers to do what the computers can do with one teacher.”

Landry was also fine with a 5 percent hike in the school budget, even though it would mean her property taxes would go up, if the budget is approved in a May 10 referendum.

“If we don’t try to keep up, our kids are going to fall behind,” she said.

But parent Nicole Fortin said she didn’t understand the idea of giving iPads to young students.

“It’s crazy,” Fortin said. “I look at all of the budgetary restraints we have. Our school system loses money every year to certain things. This is a lot to put in the hands of a 5-year-old.”

That great divide in opinion was common in Auburn on Thursday as news about iPad 2s for all Auburn kindergartners spread throughout Maine, New England and beyond.

Washburn Elementary School Principal Holly Couturier was “ecstatic” about the vote.

“I’ve seen myself the few students who have used iPads with [teacher] Mauri Dufour, and the gains they’ve made,” she said. “If they can make those gains in a relatively short amount of time, I can’t imagine where the kindergarten students are going to be at this time next year.”

Superintendent Tom Morrill said he would work diligently to pay for the iPads privately through grants or donations. Only if that fails will money in the budget be used, he said. By being first in Maine, and gaining the endorsement of former Gov. Angus King, Auburn has positioned itself well for grant money, Morrill said. The iPads will cost $479 each, he said.

Another way of paying for them could be through the newly formed Auburn Educational Fund, a private, nonprofit organization to support educational initiatives, Morrill said.

Some people questioned giving iPad 2s to 5-year-olds. They said the youngsters would drop and break the tablets. But children take care of things that are important to them, Morrill said. Also, the iPads are lighter and smaller than laptop computers, have no moving parts and will be in protective cases.

After students, teachers and parents go through iPad orientations, students will be allowed to take the computers home, Morrill said.

Two people representing Auburn taxpayer groups said Thursday they were unhappy with the school committee’s decision to approve the iPads.

Leroy Walker, a co-owner of Andy’s Beans in New Auburn and leader of the United New Auburn Association, said the iPads “are not needed in the kindergarten age.” He called the tablet “a toy.” Kindergartners “are a little young to be starting off with iPads. They’re too expensive,” he said.

However, he said, “educated people like teachers may be right. I may be wrong. We’ll see.”

He was less forgiving of the 5 percent budget increase, which he said is far too much.

“The whole state is in deep financial trouble,” he said. “Taxpayers are strapped with all these fuel problems and wars going on. It’s not the time to be asking for this kind of income.”

Ron Potvin of the Auburn Small Property Taxpayers Association agreed, calling the increase “beyond common sense.” To go from no increase to 5 percent when people are struggling “is not a doable figure,” he said. “All the things they’re asking for do not have to be done this year. They can be phased in.”

Both said a 2.1 percent increase would be more realistic.

Potvin was receptive to iPads “if the money’s there.” Young people seem to instantly understand technology, he said. “You look at kids today, they do stuff I never did. There would be value in it.”

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