Nearly 60 school systems are interested in a state plan that would get laptops in the hands of ninth-graders and their teachers by fall.

But Maine’s second-largest system is saying no thanks.

“Maybe other systems have the capacity to do this. We don’t,” said Lewiston Superintendent Leon Levesque.

The Maine Department of Education has a plan to expand the middle-school laptop program, now two years old, into high schools. Under the proposal, schools would pay $300 per unit to lease computers from Apple and would receive state money to install wireless Internet networks.

Education officials hope the Legislature will see the project’s success and will pay for laptops for all public high-schoolers next year.

At least 10 area school systems – including Auburn, SAD 43 in Rumford and SAD 36 in Livermore Falls – will consider joining the plan.

In SAD 43, Superintendent James Hodgkins said he has seen the middle-school laptops engage and energize his students in a way nothing else has. He says he is afraid his students at the high school will be at a disadvantage if they don’t have laptops.

He has $400,000 to spend on technology and plans to get 300 laptops for Mountain Valley High School – which has 620 students – in the fall. He said he’d be happy to join the state’s initiative.

“The best I can do as an individual superintendent is to make sure the playing field is level in my district,” he said.

Auburn Superintendent Barbara Eretzian also wants laptops in the fall. She will talk to the Auburn School Committee about joining the state’s plan.

Auburn gave all high school teachers laptops during the past school year and hopes to buy at least 300 more for students. School officials have started talking with Apple about a laptop deal, but the state’s arrangement will cost less.

The Apple deal requires participation by at least 40 percent of the state’s 158 high schools, or the lease of at least 8,400 computers.

Under that plan, laptops for ninth-graders would cost Auburn $90,000. The state would pay about $38,000 for the wireless network, Eretzian said, leaving Auburn with a $52,000 bill.

Eretzian will look for grants to pay it.

“I don’t know if we can get all 300,” she said. “But that’s what we’re going to try for.”

She will discuss the situation with the School Committee during its July meeting.

But across the river, Lewiston’s superintendent won’t consider the state’s proposal at all. Lewiston just doesn’t have the money, the staff or the time to bring 400 machines to Lewiston High School this fall, he said.

“It’s very late for us to get in this game this year,” said Levesque.

The machines – 350 for freshmen and 50 for teachers – would cost $120,000. And since only one technology person works at the high school, Levesque said, the school system would have to hire more staff.

It is likely the state would help the school system pay for some of the wiring costs, but Lewiston’s budget is too tight to make up the difference. And even if his school system had the money, Levesque said, it wouldn’t have the time to train teachers and coordinate a ninth-grade laptop program by fall.

“I don’t feel we’re ready for it,” he said.

State education officials will spend the next few weeks talking with superintendents about the proposal and getting pledges of participation. If enough school systems participate, wireless networks could be installed by fall. The laptops would arrive soon after.

Other area school systems that have expressed interest are SAD 21 in Dixfield, SAD 52 in Turner, SAD 9 in Farmington, School Union 44 in Wales, SAD 17 in Paris, Poland Regional High School, and SAD 44 in Bethel.

Although nearly 60 superintendents have told the state they are interested in a high school laptop program, many will have to get formal approval from their local school committees before proceeding.

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