An eastern Idaho school district has purchased top-of-the-line iPad computers in an effort, officials say, to improve teacher performance.
Earlier this month, Bonneville School District 93 delivered to principals, assistant principals, and some district office administrators a total of 34 iPads with 3G capability (Internet anywhere) and maximum memory (64 Gigabytes). The model purchased is the most expensive at $829; the district spent $29,512 (including computer cases) in federal “Title II” funds designated for staff development.
District 93 School Improvement Coordinator Scott Woolstenhulme said the machines will allow administrators to spend more time in classrooms evaluating teachers since they will be able to enter observations into an online form on the spot, rather than having to write things out twice — once in the classroom and again at office computers. As a result, teachers will get feedback faster, Woolstenhulme said.
Idaho Falls resident and District 93 taxpayer Rebecca Bohman questions the spending. She said she understands the money for the iPads was designated for staff development but that buying the fancy devices seems wrong given recent budget cuts, threats of scaled-back programs, and pleas for higher levies.
“It seems like an awfully big waste of money when we have so many other needs,” she said. “It seems like a waste in the climate we have.”
A $2.8 million levy to pay for maintaining technology, grounds, buses and buildings fell 2 percent short of passing earlier this year; the district is trying again in December.
Elementary school principal Jason Lords told Local 8 News in Idaho Falls that his iPad helps him follow through on evaluations.
“Before we’d do them on paper, for example. And I’d put it on paper and many times I’d come back to the office, set that down and realize a couple days later that, ‘oh my heck,’ I hadn’t sent that back to the teacher,” he said.
Said Woolstenhulme: “We’re trying to emphasize principals as instructional leaders … I really saw a need and saw that an iPad best meets the need.”
Because not all of the district’s 18 school’s are Wi-Fi outfitted, administrators opted for the expensive 3G model, which requires a subscription costing about $15 per month, per machine, said Woolstenhulme. As for the need for maximum memory, Woolstenhulme said the district hopes to someday offer training via Podcast.
iPad retail prices range from $499 to $829 (Apple Store and Best Buy), depending on the model’s memory and if it is 3G or Wi-Fi enabled. Apple offers an education discount of $20 per machine on Wi-Fi models only.
Title II staff development money (the district has about $300,000 this year) typically pays for teachers to attend classes and conferences but the district is trying to cut back on that because of high costs of airfare, hotels and registration fees, Woolstenhulme said. Sending a teacher to conference typically costs the district $5,000, he said, adding that training via Podcast would be cheaper. The district has invited teachers to apply for technology grants, which could go toward buying iPads, funded by about $1 million left over from an elementary school construction project paid for by bonds in 2008.