Last Monday night the Blue Earth Area School Board took the first step which will eventually lead to furnishing an electronic learning device (iPad Mini or Chromebook) into the hands of each and every one of the 1,300 students at BEA from Kindergarteners through seniors in high school.
The price tag? Well over half a million dollars.
After hearing from several staff members who are on the school's technology committee, the School Board voted unanimously to spend up to $130,000 to upgrade the wireless infrastructure necessary to have that many devices operating at one time.
The program, called "1:1 Technology" (one to one), is geared to have students all using the same type of device for learning in every classroom.
Currently BEA has several computer labs, as well as some iPads and 135 new Chromebooks which are on carts and wheeled from classroom to classroom when needed. In addition, students are able to bring their own electronic learning device (tablet, iPad, etc.) to school.
The plan presented by the technology committee was to purchase an iPad Mini for all Kindergarten through second grade students and Chromebooks for all third through 12th BEA teacher David Sparks, a member of the tech team, says the Chromebooks are less expensive than laptops, iPads or other tablets.
Each one of the Chromebooks would cost between $249 and $299, Sparks says, although the cost could be as low as $199 in the near future. The iPad Minis are also at the $299 level.
The total cost would include an estimated $115,938 for the iPad Minis, $290,000 for the Chromebooks, $24,000 for the charging stations/carts and miscellaneous costs for protective sleeves for the devices.
"We are estimating it would be between $390,000 and $407,000 depending on the exact cost of the Chromebooks," Sparks says. "We could also deduct $29,500 if we don't replace the 135 Chromebooks we already have."
Sparks also says the district could save some money by leasing the devices over a three year span. The lease payment would be between $131,000 and $143,500 per year, with a buyout option at the end of the three years.
The School Board discussed the various benefits of leasing versus purchase, but no decision was made.
In fact, no vote was taken on proceeding with the entire 1:1 Technology plan, only the infrastructure upgrade cost of $130,000 was approved Monday night.
Sparks and other members of the tech team and the School Board discussed several other issues involving the plan. Some of those included whether students would be able take the devices home with them, who is responsible for damage or loss of the devices and training of both staff and students.
"We have not developed a policy manual yet," Sparks says. "But, we have been studying the ones used by other schools and we can adapt those to our district. We should have a policy ready to be adopted by May."