Seizing on the prospect of students being engaged and inspired by new technology, the St. Paul school board agreed Tuesday night to make the district the largest in the state to put iPads in the hands of all students.
The 5-2 vote came less than a month after the proposal received its sudden debut and was inspired, too, by a desire to ensure that the devices are available to all, regardless of family finances.
Today’s graduates “don’t know a world without these devices,” Matt Mohs, the district’s chief academic officer, told school board members. “It’s time to join them at the table.”
Under the lease arrangement with Apple Inc., students at 37 of the district’s schools will have devices by early next year — at a cost to the district of about $5.72 million. In 2015-16, when the iPad project is expected to be fully operating at 61 sites, the annual lease cost will rise to about $8 million, Mohs said.
Before the vote, Andrea Casselton, the district’s interim deputy chief of technology services, sought to ensure board members that students would not be targeted for thefts because the devices could not be activated by anyone outside the district. Members also heard how the devices had transformed learning for special-education students.
The mother of a student with autism said that her son was unable to convey emotion until he had a device with which to communicate.
“The iPad has opened a whole new world for him,” she said.
Getting the iPad effort rolling will require the district to lease 27,760 iPads for students and teachers, plus an additional 1,385 laptops for teachers, in 2014-15. Funds will come from a $9 million-per-year technology initiative approved by voters in 2012.
That initiative, dubbed “Personalized Learning Through Technology,” was initially intended to produce a “teaching and learning platform,” or Facebook-like Web page, through which teachers and students could interact.
In May, however, the district pulled the plug on that project, citing difficulties in getting a platform to work quickly and efficiently enough. It then set out to supply students with devices instead.
What opponents said
Greg Copeland, chairman of the St. Paul Republican City Committee, noted that an iPad rollout was not what was proposed to voters and that the fast-track plan to make devices available without lengthy planning made it a costly experiment.
Voting against the iPad initiative were board members Louise Seeba and John Brodrick, the latter of whom said he was not comfortable to vote so soon on a “no-turning-back” plan.
St. Paul is not alone among urban districts in pursuing so-called “1:1” use of iPads.
Los Angeles has embarked on a $1 billion initiative, but full implementation was delayed to 2015 after high school students maneuvered around security measures to surf social-networking sites, according to the Hechinger Report, a nonprofit news organization.
Mohs said that under the lease arrangement, the devices would cost the district about $125 per student per year, and that the $8 million represented about 1.5 percent of the district’s annual general fund budget.
The district still is working on a list of which schools would be covered in the first year.
Also Tuesday, the board approved a $694 million budget for 2014-15 that taps $8.1 million of the district’s general fund balance. Use of the reserves still meets the district’s goal of having a carry-over of more than 5 percent of the general fund for the 2015-16 school year.
The board also voted 6-1, with Brodrick in opposition, to renew its contract with a consulting firm that hosts “courageous conversations” urging staff members to examine any racial bias they may bring to their work. The contract with Pacific Educational Group totaled $246,500, or $133,500 less than the agreement approved for 2013-14.