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Pasco School Board members ditching laptops for iPads

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County School Board members are getting brand new iPads.

It's not that their MacBook laptops with 17-inch screens aren't working.

"Mine is perfectly serviceable," board chairwoman Joanne Hurley acknowledged.

It's just that they want something new and lightweight to use as they navigate the district's new online agenda system, respond to e-mails and deal with other board business.

"I want to switch to an iPad," board member Cynthia Armstrong said. "It is more portable, and since I am out and about and around ... I still need to be in contact with e-mail. It allows me a much easier response."

The board will get the new gadgets at the same time they are pressing lawmakers to better fund the district's technology budget.

Many schools do not meet the district's goal of one computer station per three students, and some cannot properly implement computerized FCAT testing requirements. Some schools have computers and printers for which replacement parts are no longer available.

The board plans to use more than $1 million of its Race to the Top federal grant funding to support the schools' technology needs, as approved by the state.

Lynne Webb, president of the district's employee union, found it particularly ironic that the board planned to trade its laptops for iPads just a year after the state Legislature criticized all school boards for their cell phone use and required board approval to assign phones. Pasco was among the districts with the fewest cell phones in circulation, though all board members have one in addition to their laptops.

"I am all into technology," Webb said, noting that she has her own personal iPad — not owned by the union, she added. But "my iPad doesn't take the place of my computer. I haven't found an app that makes me computer-free yet. I am not sure this is the best use of funds at this time."

Hurley said the move to iPads, as requested by the board shortly after the November election, will save money. Staff told her that iPads with wireless Internet access cost just $499, and those with 3G service cost $629 not including the monthly service fee, while a new laptop would cost about $1,200.

At the same time, she said, the board members have the free basic cell phones that come with the district plan. For herself, Hurley even requested fewer minutes, reducing her monthly bill from about $60 to about $12.

"I don't think our board is at all extravagant when it comes to technology," said Hurley, who has requested 3G service. "I am simply asking that I have an iPad. I don't see anything wrong with that."

She said it was time to upgrade the board's technology from the laptops that members received about four years ago. The old laptops will go to schools for student use, superintendent Heather Fiorentino said, stressing that the board will not get to have both iPads and laptops.

But they must have something, said Fiorentino, who sports her own district-owned iPad: "It is in policy that we have to provide them with what they need to do their jobs."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Pasco School Board members ditching laptops for iPads 01/19/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 8:55pm]
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