DOVER – The city School Board voted this week to spend $1.45 million to purchase new computer devices for students from kindergarten through middle school.
Michael Limanni, the school district’s business manager, said the money needed for the purchases will come from what he described as “COVID savings.”
“I’m suggesting we pay for that with the unencumbered funds in this year’s budget,” he said during this week’s special School Board meeting.
The $1.45 million is the money they saved in this fiscal year’s budget – which ends June 30 – because of the remote learning that occurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The roughly $1.45 million includes $778,500 to buy 2,200 Chromebooks for first through eighth graders, along with AC adapters and a four-year warranty, according to school officials. The school district is buying those from Trinity 3.
They’re also buying 300 tablets, protective cases, AC adapters and a four-year warranty from Trinity 3.
The tablets, which cost $105,300, are going to the district’s kindergartners.
Monies from the roughly $1.45 million will also be used to buy 130 multi-device charging carts, and accessories, for $120,600. The school district is buying those from CDWG.
In addition, they are spending $76,251 on additional software costs and $326,506 on additional curriculum costs.
The School Board also voted unanimously to enter into a four-year purchase and lease agreement with Trinity3 to secure new laptops for every Dover High School student, along with teachers and staff.
The estimated four-year cost of the agreement is $1,752,835, with an annual installment cost of about $460,119, Limanni said.
The first installment, which will have to be made in the new fiscal year starting on July 1, will come from “unanticipated revenue from the CARES Act,” he said.
The four year purchase and lease agreement is being used to secure 2,135 laptops, AC adapters and a four-year warranty for high school students and staff.
The total amount spent on the new technology is $3,267,892, according to school district staff.
The School Board’s actions are aimed at getting to a one-to-one ratio of devices per student.
School officials have long acknowledged they have been significantly behind nearby school districts – including Oyster River and Portsmouth – when it comes to the devices they provide students.
Paula Glynn, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, acknowledged the district was “caught pretty off guard when we switched overnight to remote learning.”
“What we provided was emergency remote learning,” she said about the instruction students received after Gov. Chris Sununu’s order closed all state school buildings due to the pandemic.
The School Board votes this week followed recommendations made by Limanni, who said the one-on-one initiative was aimed at “improving how we deliver education to our students whether in or out of the classroom.”
“Our focus was on equity in the tools used for digital learning, the platform that manages these tools, and the curriculum behind it all,” he said in a memo to board members.
He previously acknowledged Dover was “extremely behind” other districts when it came to remote learning because of its lack of devices.
Limanni told the City Council during a budget discussion the district has “1,200 devices for 4,200 students.”
“You take a school like St. Thomas, which is one to one, you look at the school my kids go to, it’s one to one, we’re not even close,” Limanni said.
School Board Chair Amanda Russell said previously the district’s information technology “budget is significantly underfunded.”
“We are behind in technology comparative to districts that surround us,” Russell said. “We’re behind in districts that are smaller than us, as well as districts that are of the same size.”
But while the School Board voted unanimously to upgrade its technology, some members were troubled by the four-year lease with Trinity3.
Board member Carolyn Mebert shared her concerns about “what we’re going to face the next time we go into the budget season.”
“This is exactly what some of the citizens who complain about us on Facebook pages say, ‘Oh you saved some money during COVID-19 but then you’re going to add some stuff and we’re going to see the budget increase,’” Mebert said. “That’s exactly what we’re doing right now.”
She added that the votes were “understandable” because of the district’s technology shortage and the fact “we’re still in this situation where we have a stupid, stupid way of funding education in the state of New Hampshire,” a reference to property tax.
But School Board member Zachary Koehler pointed to some of the laptops he’s seen teachers using.
“I’m shocked they’re able to do their job on some of the devices they were using,” he said. “I think it’s pretty, for lack of a better term, immoral to kind of not give our teachers the technology needed in this environment, especially with COVID-19.”
“This is because we were not making the investments in the past. Unfortunately this is the cost of that,” he added. “It took us a pandemic to really rethink and look at the technology.”
Russell urged the board to “move now while we can” and authorize the four year lease.
“We’re only going to get further behind” if they don’t approve the lease, she said.