Teachers, school board debate iPad initiative
June 16, 2015
Craig — To spend or not to spend nearly $635,000 over a four-year period on one-to-one technology was the question of the hour at Monday night's school board work session.
Phase one of the initiative would introduce iPads into Moffat County's fifth-grade, eighth-grade and Advanced Placement classrooms over the next four years to put a device into each student's hands, resolving the technology shortage many teachers said they face, especially during state testing windows.
"Sometimes I think we have to take a chance," said teacher Kristi Shepherd as tears filled her eyes. "I'm emotional because this is what I do. And it's very hard for me not to see our kids grow and move forward when I have a computer lab that's ramped up for six weeks because of state testing."
Phases two, three and four would roll out each consecutive year at an additional cost of $97,557.65 per phase per year, pending board approval. Once fully implemented, the initiative would provide iPads to each student in grades one through five, eighth-grade and AP classes at yearly cost of $390,232 plus salary for a hardware technician at $61,094.
Moffat County School District Board of Education met with representatives from Moffat County Education Association, which represents teachers in the district, to review the proposed cuts to the 2015-16 budget at the June 4 school board work session, which included postponing the iPad initiative.
"We're encumbering the taxpayers," said board member Darrell Camilletti, who has pushed for the board to pare down expenses in next year's budget so as to reduce the originally proposed $1.3 million deficit. "We have no idea if a mill levy override is going to pass… What if we encumber the taxpayers and it fails and the school district is broke?"
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Moffat County Commissioner Frank Moe attended the meeting as the newly appointed school board liaison to the commission. He spoke of his surprise when education was the first topic addressed at the National Association of Counties workshop in Kentucky in April.
"Day one, they focused in on education. Not a new plant, or new business… I was totally astonished," Moe said. "When new businesses are looking at an economy, they don't look to see if our budgets are balanced… They do look at what type of education (kids) are getting, are they having the latest technology, are they looking forward?"
At least a dozen teachers, parents and several Moffat County High School students spoke in favor of providing more resources to teachers and students, specifically through providing technology.
One predominant argument was that the textbook shortage could be addressed more efficiently and more cheaply in the long run by providing iPads to students with which they could download the most up-to-date textbooks.
Moffat County High School student Jake Stewart aired his frustration to board members at being asked to purchase a $370 textbook for his AP Biology class last year. Instead, he purchased an older edition for $15 and said he struggled to answer questions on the exam.
"Having an iPad is college-level technology that allows AP students to go further and let them do literally anything because they have books at their hands and they're able to always have these resources," Stewart said. "If we don't have the resources, it's like feeding a flame and nothing's happening."
Another argument in favor of approving the technology funding was to prevent students from leaving the district for GOAL Academy or districts with better technology resources.
"I think the biggest fear that I have is we don't move forward, we're going to lose another 100 students, which is another $700,000 this year (in revenue)," said MCSD Director of Finance Tinneal Gerber. "By not spending $634,000 over a four year period, in one year, we're going to lose $700,000… I think we're all very dedicated to finding ways to getting a financial strategic plan in place to build on our vision."
Outgoing MCEA President Andi Murphy suggested MCEA members work with the school board and administration to research and pursue other forms of funding to support the addition of more technology, such as grant funding.
Other arguments presented in favor of approving the technology budget item was to help retain teachers by boosting resources and morale.
Camilletti felt that salary raises and benefits to teachers should come before adding iPads.
"What impacts kids more than anything else in education is the teachers," Camilletti said.
Many of the teachers in attendance felt otherwise.
"Our teachers aren't asking for more money, they're asking for more resources to do their jobs," Murphy said. "We really would hope you can reconsider. You're affecting many teachers out there… Do understand your decisions are affecting how we do our work."
The school board must ratify the final budget at its June 25 meeting, which will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the administration building board room.