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District 833 buying Mac computers for teachers

When School District 833 teachers return to class in the fall, all 1,200 of them will have new Mac laptop computers that they can also take home.

The South Washington County School Board approved the computers for $1.2 million from Apple Inc. The laptops are replacing outdated desktop computers that will be used in other areas of the district or recycled, according to Keith Ryskoski, assistant superintendent for secondary education. Approximately half of them can't even run dated Windows operating software, he said.

Dave Firkus, a former district employee in the technology area, came to the workshop session to ask the board not to buy Mac computers but stay with PCs and continue to run school computers on the Windows system. Macs are more expensive and teachers don't know how to use them, he said, and they break down.

Andrew Baldwin, the district's director of technology, said an advisory committee compiled bidding requirements and requested proposals from Dell, Hewlett-Packard Co., Lenovo and Apple.

Baldwin recommended the district not buy computers under a state contract because the purchase would be for machines only with no staff support training or customized software.

Teachers, when polled by the advisory committee about what they prefer in terms of software, said they wanted creativity, flexibility, digital graphics and capacity to run videos.

When bids were reviewed last month, Dell was eliminated because it couldn't meet the delivery date. HP was no longer considered because it doesn't have a staff development component.

Lenovo and Apple were asked to bring two-hour presentations and answer additional questions before an expanded evaluation team that included six teachers from elementary and secondary schools. Apple had unanimous support, according to Ryskoski.

The new laptops are not more expensive, nor do they break down more often than PCs, according to Baldwin.

Teachers were asking for more options and multi-media that Apple could provide, he said, in addition to having a trained coach in each building.

Innovation is important to teachers, Baldwin said.

More iPads, compatible with the Mac computers, are being used in the district and Apple is the only company with the capacity for iBooks.

The new laptops are cross-compatible with classroom computer white boards and other PCs.

Change is inevitable and the district needs a "mixed environment" of PC and Apple technologies, Baldwin said.

"With Windows, we get more of the same," he said.

The new laptops are being purchased all at once instead of on a rotating schedule. They will be paid for over three years with funds from a capital budget approved earlier this year.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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