POTTSTOWN PA – Computer maker Apple has won a new hardware lease agreement from the Pottsgrove School District, worth $1.45 million to the company over the next four years and – district administrators hope – maybe something even more priceless to their students: a top-to-bottom digital education.
The Board of School Directors approved the lease Tuesday (July 17, 2014) during the same meeting in which it adopted a final budget of $62.87 million for 2014-2015, accompanied by a real estate tax increase of 1.9 percent. The lease includes the district’s initial payment for its proposed digital learning environment (DiLE), or one-to-one initiative, that will put mobile computing devices into the hands of every student in the high and middle schools.
The DiLE plan, first discussed two years ago by Pottsgrove Director of Technology and Communications Michael Wagman, passed 6-1. The lone opposing vote was cast by Director Rick Rabinowitz, who said he favored the concept but considered it too expensive for taxpayers. Directors Matt Alexander and Dee Gallion were absent and did not vote.
Wagman anticipates the district later this fall will supply each Pottsgrove High School student with his or her own laptop computer, machines he believes will be both more rugged and better suited to high school learning tasks. Middle school students will receive iPad tablets. Existing computers now serving both schools will be redistributed to Lower Pottsgrove, Ringing Rocks, and West Pottsgrove elementary schools for use in their classrooms.
DiLE’s financial impact on taxpayers, Business Administrator David Nester acknowledged, accounts for about a third (6/10s of 1 percentage point) of the just-ratified tax increase. That means the owner of an average home in the district, valued at $120,000, will pay slightly more than $27 in added taxes next year to cover the cost of the program.
The annual budget cost of DiLE implementation amounts to more than $264,000, Wagman told board members May 27, according to reporting in The (Pottstown PA) Mercury newspaper.
Most board members during recent budget meetings said they considered it a small price. What is yet to be seen, they also agreed, is the tangible effect using the computers may have on the quality of students’ education. Maybe even more important, according to some directors, is how quickly improvements can be measured by students’ performance on state standardized tests.
No one expects an overnight fix to what has been a decline in Pottsgrove test scores during recent years.
It may take up to six months just to adequately plan for the computers’ use and train teachers, the administration reports, and months more to acclimate learners to the new roles the devices will play in their scholastic lives. Given the experience of schools elsewhere, experts suggest, Pottsgrove may not be able to directly tie students performance – better or worse – to the devices for two or more years.
Related (to the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors’ June 17 meeting):
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