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Farmington school board cool to proposed iPad payment plans

Farmington School Board members had lukewarm reactions to three methods the district could use if it chooses to equip all of its students with iPads, and some raised questions about whether the district was moving too fast.

At a board workshop Tuesday, finance director Carl Colmark presented rental fees, enrollment growth and a one-time payment from the Farmington School District's general fund as ways to help pay for the purchase of iPads if the district chooses to proceed.

According to the information Colmark presented, leasing the nearly 7,000 iPads the district would need - plus adding Internet bandwidth and otherwise preparing for the strain of adding so many new connected devices -- would cost $769,774 in the program's first year. If the district proceeds with the plan, it would pay the bulk of that with $600,000 from its capital expenditure technology budget, but that still leaves a $170,000 gap to fill.

Colmark's options for filling that gap include a $50 annual rental fee for students, which would raise $184,000 in the first year; or making a one-time payment from the district's general fund balance, money set aside for unexpected expenses.

Colmark said the district could also count on funding from increased enrollment to help cover the cost. An additional 60 students above the ditrict's current projections would bring in $313,600.

That kind of growth wouldn't be unheard of. A middle school in superintendent Jay Haugen's former district saw a 200-student growth in enrollment in the two years after it provided iPads to all students.

Colmark said the addition of iPads could make the district more appealing to students from other districts, or could entice students who live in Farmington but attend classes in other districts to stay home.

The district currently has 500 students who enroll elsewhere.

Several board members objected to the idea of asking students to rent their iPads.

"There's nothing anyone is going to say here that would get me to vote for that," board member Tim Burke said.

Others raised concerns about spending money from the district's fund balance, and some wondered how big a difference iPads would make in growing enrollment when several nearby districts are doing the same thing. The Lakeville School District is in the process of providing nearly 2,000 iPads for its students.

Board members suggested the district look for grants to help pay for the tablets, something Haugen said hasn't yet been done.

Other board members raised concerns about whether the district is moving too fast altogether. Julie Singewald in particular worried that the district could not meet a timetable that calls for every student to have an iPad by the end of the 2012-13 school year.

"I don't feel enough pieces are defined for me to be able to comfortably move forward," she said.

The district will discuss iPads again at its regular board meeting May 14.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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