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Colfax school board affirms Chromebooks approval

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX — The Colfax Board of Education has held a special meeting to affirm the approval of issuing Chromebooks to students in the school district. 

Todd Kragness, president of the Colfax Board of Education, said at the September 25 special meeting he had called the meeting to confirm how much money the school district would charge students to buy their Chromebooks after one, two or three years of use and to confirm the policy on Chromebooks. 

At the regular monthly meeting September 18, the Board of Education reviewed the Chromebook policy handbook and approved Chromebook user fees per year of $40 per student or $20 for students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Students in grades 2 to 6 will have the Chromebook computers available to them in the classroom.

Students in grades 7 through 12 will be able to take their Chromebooks home with them for homework.

The Chromebooks cost $275 each, which includes software, and the purchase of the computers was part of the $7.2 million referendum voters approved last fall.

According to the original version of the policy, if students wanted to buy their Chromebooks and had paid the user fee, they would pay $240 if purchased after one year; $200 if purchased after two years; and $160 if purchased after three years.

School board member Christie Hill wondered why, at the September 18 meeting, the school district would charge $5 more than the original purchase price.

If the Chromebooks cost $275, and the student pays $40 for the first year and then elects to purchase the computer, the cost should be $235 instead of $240, and after two years, the cost should be $195 instead of $200, and after three years, the cost should be $155 instead of $160, she said.

The motion approved by the Board of Education at the September 18 meeting included a reduction in the purchase price by $5.

Procedure 

School board member Ken Neuburg said at the September 25 special meeting he felt uncomfortable with the procedure used to pass the motion at the September 18 meeting.

The procedure should have been to offer an amendment to the motion reducing the price by $5 and for school board members to vote on the amendment and then to vote on a second motion approving the Chromebooks policy as amended.

At the September 18 meeting, Ken Bjork, school board member, had objected to the cost for buying the Chromebooks and noted the school district provides textbooks for students so why not Chromebooks?

“I still would like to see (the price) at a lesser rate,” Bjork said at the September 25 special meeting. 

The Colfax Board of Education unanimously approved rescinding the motion from the September 18 meeting and also unanimously approved a motion to accept the Chromebook policy handbook.

Fees

Bill Yingst, district administrator, said he had asked for guidance from the state Department of Public Instruction about the fees for the Chromebooks.

Yingst said he and John Dachel, high school principal, had also looked at five other school districts that provide computers for students, and Colfax “is at the lower end for buying.

The user fee of $40 or $20 will give students “skin in the game,” he said.

“We are allowing and encouraging students to take them home for academic use,” Yingst said.

According to the policy, families with three or more students will pay a maximum of $100 per year or $50 per year if the family qualifies for free or reduced lunch.

The DPI’s recommendation is if the Colfax school district is requiring students to have the Chromebooks and to do all of their homework on the Chromebooks, then the school district should not charge a user fee, Yingst said.

Use of the Chromebooks is not required for Colfax students, Yingst said.

The Chromebooks are available in class for student use, but if the students want to take them home, then they must pay the user fee, he said.

Neuburg said he was pleased with the policy setting a maximum amount that any one family would pay and also was pleased by the reduced fees for students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Pilot program 

Chromebooks for all students is a three-year pilot program in the Colfax school district.

Jodi Kiekhafer, school board member, wondered if the district plans to re-use the Chromebooks.

The district could sell the used Chromebooks for a nominal fee in three years, Yingst said.

This year’s seniors will only use the Chromebooks for one year, and the juniors will only use them for two years. If the Chromebooks are “in good shape,” they could be issued to incoming seventh graders, he said. 

The “old” Chromebooks also could stay in the classroom and the new Chromebooks could be available for students who want to take them home, Yingst said. 

For grades 7 to 12, all together, 400 Chromebooks were purchased earlier this summer, and another 262 were purchased more recently, for a total of $172,150, according to information Yingst provided to the Colfax Messenger. 

The school district anticipates buying 50 to 60 new Chromebooks each year, he said.

Kiekhafer said she would like the school board to be able to re-evaluate the Chromebooks program in one year so board members can know how the pilot problem is going.

Bjork said he liked the idea of students having skin in the game by paying a user fee but also still believed the school district should offer the computers for purchase by students at a reduced rate. 

Since the program is going to be evaluated after one year, Bjork said he could “soften” on the idea of offering the computers at a more reduced rate.

The school district’s long-term goal should be to provide Chromebooks for all students, he said.

On the other hand, the school district “is not made of money,” Bjork noted.

The Chromebooks are a “work in progress,” and Bjork said he would not “hold it up this year.”

The Colfax Board of Education unanimously approved a motion to set the fees as outlined, including a purchase price of $235 after one year; $195 after two years and $155 after three years.

School board member Christie Hill was “on call” for her job during the meeting and stepped out of the room to take a telephone call. 

The vote on the motion setting the purchase price of the Chromebooks was delayed for 20 to 30 minutes while the remainder of the board waited for Hill to return.