At the School Board’s Finance Committee meeting on Nov. 10, District 65 administrators summarized the proposed capital expenses for technology for the next three years and the impact the expenditures will have on the District’s borrowing capacity under the Debt Service Extension Base (DSEB).

The proposal includes infrastructure and network improvements, the replacement of many computers with either different or updated models, the replacement of 3M projectors for classroom instruction with new Epson interactive projectors/document cameras, and many other updates and improvements.

The proposal requires bond financing of about $1.9 million in each of the next three years through the DSEB – which may be done without a referendum. When other potential capital expenses, such as roofing and masonry repairs, are taken into account, though, the District will likely need to increase its borrowing capacity through a referendum to move forward with all the projects on the table. See accompanying story below.

Chromebooks, iPads or Both

Historically, District 65 students were provided MacBook laptops that were brought into the classroom on carts for instructional use. In May 2012, the Board decided to pilot the use of iPads, and in April 2013, it decided to pilot Chromebooks to determine which would be a better fit for the District.

In April 2013, the Board also decided it would replace aging MacBook laptops with either iPads or Chromebooks because they cost about one-third the amount of MacBooks. In addition, iPads and Chromebooks can boot up in seconds, while the MacBooks were taking five minutes or longer to boot up, which ate into instructional time, said Joe Caravello, director of technology services.

After teachers were surveyed to gather their views on the iPad and the Chromebook pilots, administrators recommended replacing student MacBook laptops with Chromebooks, rather than iPads.

Mr. Caravello and Patty Tzortzis, coordinator instructional technology, told the RoundTable in June that both devices “were really great,” but they listed a number of advantages for purchasing Chromebooks rather than iPads: Google Apps for Education is available on Chromebooks; Chromebooks have a built-in keypad, which is necessary for students to take the new State assessments; they have a longer expected life span; and students will be using Chromebooks at Evanston Township High School.

In early June, a gift was thrown into the mix. Digital Promise offered to implement a 1:1 iPad initiative at Chute and at King Arts (grades 5-8). The offer included providing a secured/filtered cellular data plan for each iPad for Internet access away from school.

The Board accepted Digital Promise’s offer of iPads on June 23, but decided that the other middle schools would be outfitted with Chromebooks. In addition, the Board decided to purchase 460 ChromeBase computers to replace aging classroom MacBook laptops.

For the next three years, administrators propose:

• to purchase 1,500 Chromebooks for the elementary schools and 500 ChromeBase computers to replace classroom MacBook laptops in 2015-16;

• to replace 750 MacBooks with updated models for teachers in 2016-17; and

• to replace 700 aging Chromebooks with updated models and to replace 625 special-purpose curriculum MacBooks with updated models in 2017-18.

While the weighting appears to be toward Chromebooks, Ms. Tzortzis told the RoundTable, no school will have only one device. She added that iPads or MacBooks will be available in each school, equipped with software that currently provides advantages in teaching media arts, science and geometry and instructing students with a disability.

From an infrastructure standpoint, Mr. Caravello said, “There’s nothing wrong with that. We can manage multiple platforms.”

Board Comments

Meg Krulee, DEC’s representative on the Finance Committee, said she would like to see a timeline for the rollout of the new equipment. This year, she said, the rollout was not smooth, and teachers did not receive needed training before school started. Mr. Caravello pointed out that the Board approved the technology purchases in July, which made it difficult to ensure everything was in place before the start of school.

Finance Committee Chair Richard Rykhus asked Mr. Caravello to present a timeline at the Finance Committee meeting in December, adding that Mr. Caravello should assume the Board would authorize purchases of technology in March.

Board President Tracy Quattrocki said she would like to see a further evaluation comparing Chromebooks and iPads before more Chomebooks were purchased in 2017-18. She also asked that administrators confer with administrators at ETHS about how the 1:1 Chromebook program was progressing at the high school.

Board member Candance Chow said the proposal was in essence a “maintenance plan,” reflecting the District’s need to limit its expenses. In order to ensure the District was maximizing its resources, she asked that administrators consider whether the computers were deployed in the most optimal way or whether there may be a different, better way to use the technology.

She added there are “some great things happening” at the middle schools where teams of students are working together and collaborating, both inside and outside the classroom. She said, though, that some students do not have access to computers or the internet at home, and those students “cannot contribute to the team and sense of team in the way they would want to. We’re not building that sense of team the way we want to. … We’ve got to keep our eye on access and equity.”

Superintendent Paul Goren said, “Your point on access and equity is a really important one. … If a young person doesn’t have access to hardware and software at home, that’s something that’s unfair.”

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...