Wikle: Is $26 million on computers justifiable in budget crunch?
At a time when teachers are facing furloughs, can Pinellas justify approving $26 million in contracts for computers?
Apparently, it can.
Concerned about the image of district staffers rolling out glitzy technology at a time when teachers are forced to work reduced hours, school board member Robin Wikle preemptively questioned a $20 million Dell contract and a $6 Apple million contract during Tuesday's meeting.
Funds for new electronics come from various sources, including grants and capital outlay dollars, explained Bob Liles, the district’s director of core systems and user support. These are separate from the general funds, the pot used to pay salaries.
The amounts in the contracts are caps, the maximum the district would spend on new computers, he said. Each school gets to decide how many they need. District officials budgeted $17 million for the actual expense.
Such large purchases are needed to maintain the district’s electronic inventory, Liles said.
There are 60,000 computers in Pinellas schools – three students to a computer and a laptop per teacher – and about a fourth gets replaced yearly.
It’s a necessary expense, Liles said. For example, the new Algebra I end-of-course exams are online.
“I don’t think too many parents would want find out that their students couldn’t complete their exams because they are using six- to seven-year-old computers,” he said. “But the big change will come when they change everything to electronic exams and textbooks.”
- Sylvia Lim, Times correspondent