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Teachers losing their Apples

Pinellas County schools will phase out Apple computers and only buy PCs. Some teachers and administrators are upset.

Published September 13, 2003

[Times photo: Bill Serne]
Lisa Ristorcelli, a third-grade teacher at Douglas L. Jamerson Elementary School, helps Deidre Worth work with an Apple iBook. Some teachers are upset that Pinellas County schools will no longer buy Apples.

In the world of computers, you're either an Apple person or a PC person.

"I am an Apple person," said Suzy Dross, a technology coordinator at Azalea Elementary School in St. Petersburg.

She and Pinellas County school administrators, teachers and students will have to become PC people as the district slowly replaces Apple Macintosh computers with personal computers. The directive came from Pinellas County superintendent Howard Hinesley, who wants to the district to use one type of computer instead of two.

That decision has angered some administrators and teachers who can't fathom parting with their Apple computers, even if it won't happen for several years. Two of every three computers owned by the school district are Apples.

Hinesley said the Macs will be replaced by PCs as they become obsolete.

"I'm an expert at Macintosh. Most of us are. So, we're going to have to be trained," Dross said.

The battle between Apple and PCs has been waged in the marketplace for decades. Now Apple is losing ground in schools, where it was the clear leader in the 1980s.

Hillsborough County signed an exclusive five-year contract with Compaq for new personal computers in 2001. But Pasco County schools, where 80 percent of the computers are Apple, aren't changing.

"It's a lot less expensive, because you need fewer people to keep the Apples running," said Chuck Hutinger, supervisor of network services for Pasco schools.

The school computer industry is lucrative, with more than $8-million spent on computers last year in Pinellas. About 68 percent of the district's computers are Macs, while 32 percent are PC-based.

District officials say it is too hard to maintain two systems, two types of training and two processes for repair.

"If we could focus on one area opposed to two, we'd be better off," said Al Swinyard, assistant superintendent for management information systems.

Swinyard said he expects the district to save money over time by using one type of computer, but he could not offer specific figures. The school district has a contract with Dell for personal computers now.

Norman Haddad and his wife, Jo Anne, purchased 21 iMac computers, an Apple G3 computer, two digital cameras and other equipment in 2001 for Seminole Elementary School, where his late mother-in-law Lois Campbell Brown went to school.

The value of the gift: $30,000.

"When I see that this bureaucrat makes the decision to switch the county to PCs without getting advice from the teachers, it sounds a little suspicious to me," said Haddad, 66, of Seminole.

Some teachers and other school officials say Macs are easy to use, loaded with extra software and experience fewer problems with viruses.

"It worries me that I'm going to have to run around and patch machines," said Donna Hall, librarian information specialist at Douglas L. Jamerson Elementary School in St. Petersburg, which has 218 Apple computers and four personal computers.

Hall and others say repairs on PCs may take valuable time away from the classroom.

Hinesley said he consulted with then-assistant superintendent John Stewart, an assessment committee and the district's data processing department. He did not form a committee to review the issue.

While that review took place more computers would have been purchased, Hinesley said, and he's not convinced the outcome would have been any different.

Another issue is the district's recent purchase of a new student information system that until recently worked with Macs and PCs. Apple changed its operating system, which makes it less compatible with the district's new student information system.

Hinesley told the School Board this week he was confident in his staff and his decision. He complained that word leaked out about the computer plans before district officials had a change to explain it to teachers.

"If you ask for input in the beginning," School Board member Mary Brown responded, "then it saves some of this that has happened from happening."

While some teachers are upset, others have resigned themselves to accepting the change.

"I'll always have a Mac at home," said David Rodda, a technology coordinator at Westgate Elementary School in St. Petersburg.

[Last modified September 13, 2003, 01:46:42]

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