NAPLES — The Collier County School District is ready to pull the plug on a program that would give every student in the district his or her own laptop for use at school.
After implementing the plan at several schools, the district said it’s no longer financially viable.
About six years ago, the Collier County School District began working on a plan that would equip children attending new schools with a laptop. Before the plan went into place, schools were built with a ratio of students to computers.
In elementary schools, the ratio was four students for every computer. In middle school, it was three students to a computer and high schools had two students to a computer.
The district planned to start with the one-student-per-computer initiative in new schools opening, including Palmetto, Veterans Memorial and Mike Davis elementary schools and Cypress Palm Middle School.
The hope was to expand the program to all schools over several years, according to Michele LaBute, chief operations officer for the district.
The computers were bought with capital funds as part of the equipment for the new schools, LaBute said.
Now, the district is having to rethink the program because capital funding in the school budget has dwindled.
“The capital improvement tax (revenue) is half of what we had three years ago because of the decline in property values,” she said.
In addition, LaBute said, voters passed the referendum that decreased the district’s capital fund property taxes by 25 cents per $1,000 of property value in exchange for an equal increase to the district’s general fund property tax.
The approved referendum allows the district to spend more on operational costs, such as teacher salaries and educational programs, and less on capital costs, such as new schools and football fields.
The district collected about $17 million in its first year from the referendum. The money is needed to keep Collier schools at status quo during a time when money from the state is growing scarce, according to district officials.
The state also took additional property taxes from the district’s capital funds and put these into the operating account to overcome a general fund shortfall.
As a result, LaBute said, the district doesn’t have the extra capital dollars to invest in computers for all students.
“You have to think a laptop battery lasts about three years before it has to be replaced. The computers are often on all day long as opposed to your home computer. We cannot afford to do that on a one-to-one basis,” she said.
In a letter to the Collier County School District, Robert Hanson, senior technology adviser for the Florida Association of School Administrators, wrote that school district experiences and investments in technology often fail to meet the objectives envisioned and cost more in staff resources and dollars than expected.
“These experiences, coupled with state funding mandates that directed capital dollars into facilities, discouraged and diminished Information Technology investments,” he wrote in the letter, which was part of a district-commissioned technology assessment. “The result: Florida’s public schools are further behind in delivering on the promise of the 21st Century education.”
The report goes on to say, however, that Collier County is a technology leader among Florida’s school districts.
The report found three areas for Collier schools to address: Formalizing a single, district IT strategy and plan; replacing aging software technologies; and introducing management discipline in the allocation and use of IT resources and services.
The report goes on to say that the district needs to exercise caution with proposals to add additional device types, supporting hardware and/or software to an infrastructure already challenged by “issues of financial sustainability and equitable access.”
LaBute said the district’s technology committee will evaluate the program and will recommend a more equitable technology distribution.
“I think everyone understands budgets change,” she said. “And no school has complained about a lack of computers.”
LaBute said the district’s average is about 3.6 students per computer districtwide.
“We’re proud of where we are technologically,” she said.