USC administrators want iPads for every middle school student

Published Mar 25, 2014 at 9:45 am (Updated Mar 25, 2014 at 9:45 am)

Upper St. Clair School District administrators presented their proposed technology budget to the school board March 24, including launching a plan to put iPads in the hands of every middle school student in the district.

Ray Berrott, director of technology, presented the board with a proposed $803,600 technology budget for 2014-15, which includes $86,400 for the first of three annual payments to lease enough iPads for one grade level of the fifth through eight grade middle schools in the district. But in addition to the second annual payment of that amount in the 2015-16 budget year, he’s asking the board to commit to another three years of payments beginning 2015-16 to fund iPads for the remaining three middle school grades.

He said the administration is asking the board to commit to outfitting all four grades and that it would be detrimental to the students to fund one grade level for 2014-15 and then take the technology away from them for their subsequent years in middle school. Even though the board may technically only approve spending for one grade level in the 2014-15 budget, Berrott says administrators don’t want the board to spend that money unless they are committed to fund all four grade levels beginning in 2015-16.

Board member Louis Oliverio said he understands that it would be a good investment.

“But what do we cut to do it?” he asked. “It must be revenue neutral.”

“We can only raise taxes so much,” Oliverio said.

Berrott said he and other administrators have visited some other school districts in the area who have implemented similar programs. “Kids are already learning this way,” he said. “We’re catching up.”

Berrott pointed out that the two high school students who have advisory appointments with the school board – Brinda Doshi and Christian Meyer – come to board meetings armed with technology and no paper to make their presentations at each meeting.

Board President Louis Mafrice asked if there were financial gains to be had from the use of technology eliminating paper.

Berrott said he was not proposing any cost savings as a result of the move to the iPads. He said the district is not a very textbook heavy district anyway.

“In my opinion, the board has to decide if this is a priority,” he said.

Sharon Suritsky, assistant superintendent, said that administrators are trying to identify alternative funding sources for the acquisition of the technology. She said that the proposed technology budget is really a “worst case scenario” if they can’t find any funding for the bill.

Frosina Cordisco, director of business and finance for the district, said administrators are proposing that the school board use the $45,000 in undesignated proceeds from February’s Support Our Schools Gala toward this iPad proposal.

She said that would bring the cost per year for three years to fund one class down to about $70,000 per year.

Board Member Rebecca Stern said, “This is really all about delivering education. That PSERS thing is in the back of my mind,” referring to the escalating bills school districts are facing to fund the state retirement system. Our problem is PSERS. Paying for iPads in the middle schools isn’t the problem. It just really angers me.”

Superintendent Patrick O’Toole said, “It’s holding back the economy.”

“We have to solve these problems politically,” he said. “We have to give our kids what they deserve.”

But Oliverio said the money just is not there. He said they’d have to go to the taxpayers with a referendum to raise taxes even higher.

“I don’t mean to be hostile with my questions,” he said.

Berrott encouraged board members to call him to make an appointment to see the iPad in action in the classroom, where they have some students in a pilot program using them. “You have to see it from the students’ perspective,” he said.

The board on Feb. 10 adopted a preliminary 2014-15 budget that would raise taxes by 0.783 mills for 2014-15. The district is seeking 0.333 mills worth of exceptions from the Pennsylvania Department of Education to raise taxes higher than the inflation rate of 2.1 percent, or 0.45 mills. To raise taxes higher than that, the school board would have to put it to a referendum.

The proposed budget still includes a shortfall of about $750,000, even with raising taxes to the maximum the PDE might permit.

The district and administration will spend the next few months discussing details of what a final budget might look like by the time it is adopted in May or June.

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