Lawrence school board to consider trading laptops for tablets at high schools to save costs

photo by: John Young

Apple iPads sit on the library counter of Deerfield Elementary School's newly renovated media library center, Sept. 28, 2016.

In an effort to save on rising repair and lease costs, Lawrence school board leaders will soon consider approving a recommendation to replace the laptops that the district has issued to all high school students with tablets instead.

As part of its meeting Monday, the Lawrence school board will vote on whether to approve a recommendation from district administrators to pay $3.22 million to issue new tablets to high school and middle school students, acquire some desktop computers, and provide related technology support and services.

The $3.22 million would finance the lease of Apple iPad tablets and iMac desktops, as well as the cost of professional development hours and AppleCare+ warranty and technical support plans for the district’s middle and high school students. The district would have a 0.0% promotional interest rate as part of an agreement to trade in old devices and lease the new devices for a period of three years.

The new lease agreement would replace the MacBook laptops previously issued to every Lawrence high school student with iPad tablets and issue new iPads to middle school students, who currently have iPads that were purchased in 2016. Students would also be issued keyboards with mouse trackpads and tablet pens.

Previous pilots resulted in the district selecting MacBooks for the high school level over iPads, and a district report to the board includes budget considerations and rationale for moving to iPads. Specifically, the report states that the initial lease payment for laptops for high school students and staff was just under $500,000 annually. However, when the district refreshed the lease, it jumped to a little over $1 million annually.

“This really placed us in a cycle that will be difficult to sustain moving forward,” the report states.

In addition, the district has encountered an “enormous increase” in the number of repair issues with the most recent lease, most of which are due to costly screen breaks, according to the report. Last year, the district had more than $250,000 in repair costs on the MacBooks, including around 20-25 broken screens each week since the district entered the newest lease 18 months ago. For comparison, the repairs during the initial lease cost the district around $30,000 annually.

The district estimates that the new lease for middle and high school devices (including the trade-in for old devices) would save the district about $1.3 million per year, or about $3.9 million over the three-year lease period. In addition, the district anticipates about $200,000 to $250,000 savings in repair costs in the general fund annually.

The cost of the new Apple devices and services will come from the district’s capital outlay budget, as opposed to its strained general fund. The memo states that by financing the purchase, the expense from the technology capital outlay budget will spread out over three years rather than a single year, allowing for other projects to occur.

The report states the district began piloting 30 iPads at each high school in October, and that the plan was to collect the devices at the end of the fall semester and review data from the users as part of the evaluation process. Areas being evaluated include the following: education in the classroom and software; budget and the ability to sustain the yearly lease costs; and the costs of repairs.

The report for Monday does not currently provide a specific breakdown of preferences, but it states that student and staff feedback varied, with some loving it, liking it, not liking it, and some not wanting to change from the current laptops. Some information was provided for specific subject areas. For instance, the report states that in math classes there have been advantages of the iPad’s touchscreen and the ability to draw, write, chart math problems, and present to the class. In English classes, there was a “general unwillingness to try iPads” and a desire to keep the MacBooks. The report indicates there was feedback from teachers of specialized classes that iPads would not work in their classrooms. As a result, the district is proposing that some classes, such as computer applications, journalism and photography, continue to use iMac desktops and MacBooks.

A previous pilot of both iPads and MacBooks at the middle and high school levels during the 2016-2017 school year resulted in iPads being recommended only at the middle school level and MacBooks being recommended at the high school level.

As the Journal-World reported at the time, the district decided in February 2017 to lease MacBooks over iPads at the high school level after a semesterlong pilot program at both high schools. Following the pilot, more than 70% of the teachers and administrators serving on the district’s Digital Learning Task Force found the MacBook to be the more effective learning tool of the two Apple devices. The board voted in March 2016 to issue iPads to middle school students, though not all school board members agreed with that decision at the time. Several board members said most people they had spoken with were in favor of laptops at the middle school level, but the board eventually voted 5-2 to go with iPads due to various considerations.

The Lawrence school board will convene at 6 p.m. Monday at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.


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