Auburn explains iPad funding

Associated Press

The City of Auburn has planned to provide iPad 2 tablets to kingergartenders this fall.

AUBURN — When School Superintendent Tom Morrill said in April that Auburn would become Maine's first public school district to give iPad 2 tablet computers to all kindergartners this fall, he pledged to find $200,000 to pay for them.

Plan A was to buy iPads with grants and donations, Morrill said. Plan B: Find the money in the school budget.

Plan A failed, Morrill said this week, because there wasn't enough time to secure grants and still distribute iPads this fall. Instead, school officials found $228,000 in the 2010-11 budget that ends June 30.

But, buying 400 iPads from the budget in a year when the School Department said it needed a 5 percent increase is not sitting well with some.

“They said they were going to go out and write up a grant to pay for those iPads,” City Councilor Ray Berube said. “Year after year they say they've cut their budget to bare bones. That's their story.”

Berube called school spending “frivolous." He said the department had changed furnaces in school buildings, was buying air conditioning for schools, and now, iPads.

“They always seem to have money to do what they want,” Berube said. “I do not believe this is the best time to be spending as much as they can.”

Stella Gammaitoni, spokeswoman for Auburn Citizens for Responsible Education, a group that created a Facebook page to oppose iPads for kindergartners, said she was frustrated to learn the money is coming out of the budget.

“It doesn't seem like they're being honest,” Gammaitoni said. Not having a solid funding base for the iPads will create a budget problem next year when school officials want to buy the next round of iPads for kindergartners, she said.

Gammaitoni has followed the iPad initiative, attended meetings and raised questions. Too often, administrators are “changing their story” on how the iPads are being paid for or how many will be bought, Gammaitoni said. “It seems like the whole thing has so many inconsistencies."

In a meeting with the Sun Journal on Wednesday, School Committee Chairman David Das said the $48,000 used to buy iPads this past spring came from higher-than-expected state reimbursement of MaineCare services, among other accounts.

Maine Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Jim Rier said school departments are free to use MaineCare reimbursements for other programs because the state reimburses districts for money already spent.

But hours after the meeting, Morrill said no MaineCare reimbursement money was used for iPads.

Das later explained why he said one thing and Morrill said another. Officials had considered using money from the MaineCare account, and Das was under the impression it was being used. Upon review, the district discovered that if it had spent MaineCare reimbursements on iPads, overall spending for 2010-11 would have exceeded the approved budget, which would be illegal.

Instead, money was used from other accounts in which the spending was approved and money was left over, Das said.

Goal: Grant money next year

Morrill said the School Department hasn't given up on grant money and will try to take that route next year. “We always said we'd look at multiple funding, and grants are right up there,” he said.

After looking into grant money, the School Department discovered some foundations didn't accept proposals until January, and that Auburn needs good data on the iPads' effectiveness.

“We've made some good contacts, and hopefully those are going to open some doors,” Morrill said. “You need to have a solid presentation when you go to foundations. It's hard to sell wishes.”

This fall, half of the department's 285 kindergartners will get iPads at the start of school, the other half in early November. Test scores between those two groups will be compared. Educators suspect the data will show that iPads enhanced kindergarten learning.

'Bare-bones budget'

Das said school spending has been frugal.

In the past six years, education money from Auburn taxpayers has decreased by 7 percent, he said.

“We do have a bare-bones budget,” Das said. According to the state education funding formula, Auburn spends millions less than what it should on education.

“We're in the bottom 10 percent in the state for per-pupil operating costs and are significantly lower than our peer districts,” Das said.

This year, the school budget reduced property taxes, said Assistant Superintendent Katy Grondin, who becomes superintendent July 1. "I don't think people understand that."

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

Sources of iPad money

The fall 2011 purchase of 309 iPads, at a cost of $228,000, will come from $96,000 in leftover federal economic stimulus money, $22,841 in unspent technology account funds, $7,300 in grants and $92,611 from unexpended balances.

Unexpended money includes:

* $33,500 from savings on building insurance and professional liability. The School Department saved money by sending insurance contracts out to bid last year.

*13,500 from savings on vehicle insurance, which was also sent out to bid.

* $15,000 from maintenance supply and vehicle repair. Fewer repairs were needed because the district recently bought two new buses.

* $25,611 from health insurance because of better-than-expected savings from a new policy that required spouses of staffers to pay more. 

* $5,000 in postage savings. More documents were sent electronically, including Edward Little High School grades, which are no longer mailed to parents.

The spring 2011 purchase of 100 iPads and support for the last weeks of school in five kindergarten classes cost $48,084.

That money came from:

* $14,399 in special education federal stimulus money;

* $29,215, general federal stimulus money;

* $4,470, unexpended balances from central office supplies and technology.

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Comments

Steve  Dosh's picture

Displaying comments, from newest to oldest

. .Thank you naysayers for weighing in on this weighty issue . As for me ? i am simply jealous . i just want an iPad ® l o l :)
b t w - N e one go to Auburn University in here http://www.auburn.edu ? It's a - g r e a t - liberal arts school in Alabama and a lot like U Maine ( a land grant school ) . Aloha foro Pahoa :)

Aaron Mistich's picture

blech

I question the wisdom of giving a group that is known for being able to lose or break anything and everything they own within days of getting it pieces of equipment that cost hundreds of dollars.

David  Cote's picture

More pressing needs

Citizens of Auburn...You have a high school that is grossly outdated and in need of attention. This "surplus" money would be more wisely used if it was allocated toward a new Edward Little high school. The school dept. could still purchase an X amount of ipads for each school for general studies and training. Buying one for each kid is downright idiotic. The infrastructure of the high school is of much more of a urgent need. Ipads for each 5 year old is not a "need."

David  Cote's picture

More pressing needs

Citizens of Auburn...You have a high school that is grossly outdated and in need of attention. This "surplus" money would be more wisely used if it was allocated toward a new Edward Little high school. The school dept. could still purchase an X amount of ipads for each school for general studies and training. Buying one for each kid is downright idiotic. The infrastructure of the high school is of much more of a urgent need. Ipads for each 5 year old is not a "need."

Mark Elie's picture

budget

Just because there happens to be a small surplus in the school budget, doesn't mean it
MUST be spent. How about saving some money for the future? As for using grant money, don't think that money comes out of the air for free.

JOHN PAINTER's picture

The Chinese aren't racing us to the bottom

What is unfortunate about the iPad debacle in Auburn is how the school board has chosen to present their (believe correct) assertions about the importance of incorporating technology, iPads at the moment, into education. While there is no research I am aware of at the present which shows iPads improve early childhood education there is ample research demonstrating the benefits of computers in education starting as far back as the 1950's (1954,Skinner) (2002, Angrist & Lavy). Though fleshing out correlation from causation is the perennial issue.

I hope that local parents and children take the time to look at and become regular users of MIT's "Scratch" site http://scratch.mit.edu/ developed for teaching very young children the mathematics and underlying logic used in software development and enineering. Maine, indeed the country needs more of these creative and relatively cost effective approaches to teaching and exciting our children in the math and science they desperately need to be competative in the 21st Century and that our nation will rely on to remain vibrant and strong.

As the author Thomas Friedman wrote in his book The World is Flat, "the Chinese are not racing us to the bottom" our place in the world is not guaranteed.

Hopefully the school board can find a better way to communicate the important message I suspect they want to convey.

1 BF Skinner (1954), ‘The Science of Learning and the Art of Teaching’, Harvard Educational Review 24, 86-97; and BF Skinner (1958), ‘Teaching Machines’, Science 128, 969-77.
2 Heather Kirkpatrick and Larry Cuban (1998), ‘Computers Make Kids Smarter – Right?’, TECHNOS Quarterly for Education and Technology 7(2), 1-11.
3 Joshua Angrist and Victor Lavy (2002), ‘New Evidence on Classroom Computers and Pupil Learning’, Economic Journal 112, 735-65.

Bob Stone's picture

Enough with the "Rope a Dope"...

...just tell the truth. You don't need Bonnie to run interference for you.

Integrity is a wonderful thing. And so much simpler.

Doreen Sheive's picture

always the same

This is a perfect example of what drives me nuts about education systems. Superintendents do what they want to do without regard for what the voters want. Plus, if they paid $228,000 for 285 ipads, they paid $800 per ipad. This cost is high by any standard. Did they go out to bid for these ipads? Did they try to negotiate with the company? The company has always been willing to give special prices to school systems. Also, I presume they plan to have these ipads continue on with the student since they intend to buy more next year --why are they doing this? There are already laptop computers available for students in the upper grades. I am not against the use of computers,however,it is very important to still teach the basics. It certainly sounds like all of this was not well planned from not knowing about the grant requirements to how they were going to pay for the ipads. Again, planning appears to always be a problem with the education leaders.

AL PELLETIER's picture

magic money

I'm sure glad I live in Norway where the school budget is reviewed and approved by folks with priorities in mind. I avoid Auburn as much as possible because the streets are so poorly maintained and it seams like the city council is constantly looking for ways to raise revenues just to break even with necessary spending.
Perhaps the school committee should have approached Steve Dosh and Whitney Houston for some magic money to buy toys for tots.

Tyla Strout's picture

iPads are a wonderful tool

iPads are a wonderful tool and I'm sure they will help further the education of these children. If you have children though, think back to their maturity level at age 5...

Kiddos that young have no sense of monetary cost. Most are not responsible enough to care for such a pricey tool. I've seen lots of children, both at home and at school, get frustrated or angry with a video game system and hit it or throw it. What happens then? Do they just get a new one? What does that teach them?

I'm not opposed to giving students iPads as a teaching tool. But I'm thinking age 5 is not the time to do it. Maybe 3rd or 4th grade would be a more suitable age...

Steve  Dosh's picture

Auburn explains iPad funding

. .Thanks Bonnie , No explanation needed , Tom . It's rather apparent that the y2k distribution of Bondi Blue Apple ® laptops to all Jr. High students in the Great State of Maine was a resounding success and is being emulated atthe K - 6 level . Hooray !
" i believe that children are our future , teach them well and let them lead the way . Show them all the love they posess inside . Give them a sense of pride , to make it easier . Let the childrens' laughter remind us of the way we used to be ." -- Whitney . Embrace change
Your turn , naysayers . /s Steve Dosh , Apple ® iPod® , iPod® Touch , and Powerbook 17" user and Sponge Bob lover 18:18 HST • Thursday

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