The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

October 26, 2013

District prefers tablets over books, eyes grant

By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer

BROOKFIELD — Jumping at the chance to fund the idea of giving each student a tablet computer and using up-to-date curriculum rather than 15-year-old textbooks, Brookfield School District applied for part of a statewide education grant that will be given to districts whose innovative ideas also show a cost-savings.

Because the district is in a fiscal emergency, a state-appointed oversight committee that monitors district spending held a special meeting Friday morning to approve the $850,000 grant application. The deadline for applying was midnight Friday.

Superintendent Tim Saxton explained to the group that giving each of the 1,100 students a tablet, along with purchasing updated digital curriculum and training teachers from kindergarten to 12th grade to use 21st-century education “apps,” plus updating the existing WiFi service is “front-loaded” with costs, but something the district can continue to afford down the road.

The district plan meets three key points of the Straight A grant requirements by showing a documented cost-savings for digital curriculum versus hardcover textbooks, academic achievement improvements because the tablet initiative allows for learning to be tailored to each student, and a positive financial impact long-term because it will reduce the money spent for textbooks. The district could expect to save $68,000 a year, Saxton said.

He also said he expects some savings in personnel costs because he anticipates less of a need for tutoring and intervention instruction. The students, he said, would have access to the tablets “24/7” rather than carrying outdated textbooks home.

To purchase updated textbooks in the four core areas – math, social studies, science and English – would cost about $1.2 million, he said.

“In a district like Brookfield, whose fiscal resources were unable to provide updated hard-copy textbooks, this is a viable and innovative solution,” Saxton said.

He also said he is negotiating with different vendors for the initial purchase of the tablets, which he anticipates will cost about $540,000. The tablets can be updated every three to five years and the required digital licenses will be good for seven years, Saxton said. After seven years, the district would spend about $35,000 a year for licenses.

While the K-12 building itself is relatively new, the current WiFi capabilities can support about 350 devices. Saxton said he received a bid earlier this week for about $40,000 that would upgrade that capability to handle all the tablet devices.

The fiscal commission voted unanimously to approve the grant application. Chairman Paul Marshall said he was in favor of trying to get a piece of the grant, even though the district will incur some costs in the future to maintain the tablets because “textbooks are so 1980s.”

The district will be notified on Dec. 17 if it will receive the grant money.