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Chromebooks questions raised
MONROE - Lease or buy? Underclassmen or all students? And what about a Chromebook fee? A proposal to roll out Google Chromebooks next year raised questions Monday as school board members considered the logistics of the district providing the devices to Monroe High School students.

The board is scheduled to reconsider the plan May 12. Among questions to be resolved are whether the district should lease the Chromebooks for either three or four years, and whether the rollout should begin with about 400 devices for next year's freshmen and sophomores, or 800 for all four grades.

Ron Olson, district business manager, recommended the district consider leasing the Chromebooks rather than purchasing them, as technology devices typically have little value after four years. A proposal from American Financial Network, which operates in conjunction with Woodford State Bank, lists the total cost of leasing 400 Series 3 Chromebooks at $105,760, either over three or four years. Leasing 800 of the devices would cost $211,520 over three or four years.

The cost of the Chromebooks is included in the district's technology budget, which stands at about $840,000 under next year's initial budget.

The district would own the devices at the end of the lease, raising the question of whether the district should make the Chromebooks available to students and the public to purchase at fair market value at the lease agreement's end, and using that money to offset the cost of leasing new devices.

School board president Bob Erb raised the issue of assessing a student fee for Chromebooks. The district assesses fees for textbooks, some classes and extracurricular activities; the fees are waived for qualifying low-income students.

"It's reasonable to talk about what sort of a use fee is appropriate ... to have this as a tool," he said. As a parent, "this is the very first fee I would want to pay."

Erb also questioned how the school would handle requests from students to use personal devices, such as a MacBook. Chromebooks are small devices that include a web browser and physical keyboard. Macintosh products are often desired for their graphics capabilities.

Dan Keyser, director of curriculum and instruction, said individual requests to use other devices would be considered, but the expectation would be for instruction to be geared to and students to use the supplied Chromebooks.

Lynne Wheeler, principal at Monroe Middle School, expressed reservations about allowing other devices. "Teachers really become initial tech support," she said, and having even a few students using a different platform could be disruptive for teachers leading instruction on the Chromebooks.