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Bay area schools still loyal to Apple

Apple Computer Inc. may be out of favor with Wall Street, but Tampa Bay schoolteachers still love their Apples.

Apple, the nation's fourth-largest manufacturer of personal computers, last week cut its work force by 30 percent and announced a cutback in its product lines. The company lost $120-million in its most recent quarter and had a 31 percent drop in sales last year.

But Apple doesn't seem to be losing its polish with local educators.

Since introducing Apple II units in the early 1980s, Apple has dominated the education market, accounting for about 60 percent of all computers in the nation's schools.

Educators who choose Apple Macintoshes over IBM-compatible PCs cite Apple's user-friendly operating system, often discounted prices, broad array of educational software and strong customer service.

Still, there are signs that Apple's edge in schools may be slipping nationally. A recent survey showed a slight increase in predicted purchases of Windows-based PCs for the 1996-97 school year, along with a slight decline of Macintosh purchases for the same period.

According to the report by Quality Education Data, Macintosh purchases for the current year will drop to 56 percent from 61 percent, while Windows-based PC purchases will rise to 40 percent from 37 percent last year.

But there are few signs of such a shift in loyalty at Tampa Bay schools. Locally, Apple remains the favorite choice of teachers and administrators, especially at the elementary and middle school level. And school officials say their opinion of Apple hasn't changed, despite the company's recent turmoil.

"We're constantly evaluating the situation at Apple, but we've been purchasing their computers for years," said Judy Ambler, supervisor of instructional technology for the Pinellas County school system. "As long as they're producing product and supporting it, I don't see us doing anything differently. I just wish we could get the service from other vendors that we get from Apple. They're fantastic."

According to the state Department of Education, 72 percent of the computers in Pinellas County schools are Apple IIs or Macs, compared with a statewide average for Apple of 52 percent.

At Dixie Hollins High School in St. Petersburg, several hundred Macintoshes have been ordered as part of a major renovation. Principal John Mclay has no doubts Apple will be there to support its products.

"I talked to the Apple people today and they're confident their company will be just fine," he said.

The teachers' affinity for Apple is important, said Fran Shultz, supervisor of instructional media and technology for the Pasco County school system.

"With the amount of teacher training funds we have, the easier operation of the Mac platform makes it much more attractive for us," said Shultz, whose school system has 90 percent Apple computers. "Kids can handle any machines. We want computers that teachers can get comfortable with, and for that reason, we find we do better on Macs."

In Hillsborough County, just over 60 percent of the educational computers are Apples. Jack Davis, director of educational media and technology, said he has fielded a few calls from principals who are nervous about the company's future.

"I tell them if their installed base is Macintosh they should continue buying Macintosh," said Davis. "We're assuming they'll stay alive, though it's always a gamble when you're talking about high tech."

Davis said that one of Apple's big selling points _ its broad assortment of educational software _ may be eroding.

"Some new materials are being released under Windows 95, and there's no compatible software in Apple," said Davis. Power Point, a popular presentation software, for example, is available in version 7.0 on Windows while the Macintosh ver-sion goes only as far as 4.0.

"It seems like the software vendors, like all of us, are just waiting to see what happens to Apple," said Davis.

David Voss, state director of strategic initiatives for Apple, said school officials are right to keep their faith in Apple.

"What Apple is doing is cutting the non-profitable part of its business," said Voss, a resident of Safety Harbor. "Education has been profitable, and we totally dominate that market."

In fact, said Voss, Apple expects to gain an even bigger share of the school computing budget with its newest product, eMate 300, a 4-pound portable computer that sells for less than $800.

Apple is pitching the eMate, which can access the Internet and download information from a Mac or an IBM-compatible computer, for bulk sales to school systems.

"The eMate makes student access a reality at a reasonable cost," Voss said.

No. 1 among schools

Apple computers are the most prevalent in classrooms throughout Tampa Bay.

Apple IBM

(% of total) compatible Others+

Citrus 67% 33% less than 1%

Hernando 61% 37% 2%

Hillsborough 61% 37% 2%

Pasco 90% 10% less than 1%

Pinellas 72% 27% 1%

State 52% 46% 2%

+ Other: Atari, Commodore, etc.

Note: Percentages may add up to more than 100 because of rounding.

Source: Florida Department of Education