2013-06-21 / Front Page

Ipads are a go in South Portland

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – South Portland middle school and high school students will each be provided with an iPad for the upcoming school year after the city council reversed a decision to block a school department proposal to purchase the devices.

The council voted 6-0, with Councilor Melissa Linscott absent, to approve a $785,000 proposal to provide the devices to students from seventh through 12th grade. The cost of the plan will cover the price of providing devices to high school students. The iPads provided to middle school students will not cost the school department any money because they are covered by the state’s Maine Learning Technology Initiative Program.

Gov. Paul LePage announced in late April the state would provide Hewlett Packard laptops to all seventh and eighth graders under the Maine Learning Technology Initiative Program, or give individual school departments the option to purchase another device with costs covered up to the price of an HP laptop.

The South Portland Board of Education approved a proposal from technology director Andy Wallace to purchase iPads in May, but when the expense was brought to the city council on June 3, three councilors voted against the proposal because of questions about the price and the relative benefit of iPads against laptops.

The 3-3 split vote with Councilor Alan Livingston absent resulted in the defeat of the proposal. A week later, an audience of more than 100 students, parents and teachers attended a workshop to ask the council to reconsider and explain the benefit they had experienced from technology in the classroom.

The crowd at the council’s reconsideration vote, held at its Monday, June 17 meeting, was not nearly as large as the previous week’s audience, but about a dozen school department officials and residents attended the meeting to hear the council’s discussion before it took another vote.

Councilors Jerry Jalbert and Michael Pock, two of the three votes against the original proposal, switched their vote to support the initiative this time around. Jalbert said he was initially concerned the iPads seemed to cost more than the retail price for the city’s 860 high school students.

However, Jalbert said his questions were answered when school department officials explained that costs for a new wireless network, accessories such as protective cases and laptops for 44 staff members are factored into the expense. The total cost for the technology initiative breaks down to about $912 per high school student.

Livingston, who was absent from the last meeting, jokingly presented a slide rule and calculator he used in high school to demonstrate the history of South Portland’s schools staying ahead of the technology curve. He said he also had unanswered questions about the proposal during the previous week’s workshop, but Andy Wallace, technology director, answered the questions in a two-hour one-on-one discussion June 14.

“Andy made the difference for me. You’re worth every penny you make over there Andy, thank you very much,” Livingston said.

The initial defeat of the proposal brought about a related discussion among councilors about how it should handle reviews of school department finances. Jalbert said the fact that large expenditures need council approval provides valuable checks and balances to make sure the school department is spending money responsibly and keeping the burden on property tax payers low.

However, some said the council already executes that power when it gives the school department budgeting guidance. School Board Chairman Rick Carter said in the previous week’s workshop that a council order to provide laptops over iPads would be akin to “the school board telling the city council what fire truck to buy.”

Former city councilor Rosemarie De Angelis agreed. She said Monday council votes on school department expenditures should be more about public disclosure because the school department is already working within a budget agreed upon by the council.

“At a certain point it becomes micromanaging,” De Angelis said.

Pock said he believes the checks and balances of council expenditure review are necessary, but he did not feel it appropriate to tell the board of education what device to buy.

“iPads or laptops, I think that’s completely up to the school board and the school department. I have both and I’m not good at either,” Pock said.

Want to comment on this story? Login to our website at sentry.mainelymediallc.com and let us know your thoughts.

Return to top