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A year's study needed before buying laptops

By Vilmar Tavares

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2000

Re: Price of laptops for middle school students soaring, May 11 Hernando Times:

In a matter of a few weeks we've seen the cost of the computers go up from an estimated $600 to $1,600. That's more than 150 percent. This, by itself, should make everyone ponder exactly what other "estimated" costs will balloon faster than we know how to deal with.

Who's the genius behind these numbers? It sure sounds like one of those bait-and-switch tactics wherein once you are in the door, you get sold a totally different bill of goods.

For this reason alone I suggest the Hernando County School Board take another year to consider this proposal. This computer idea is seriously flawed, and I shake my head in wonder that so many parents eagerly and willingly buy into this idea, and that the School Board has the audacity to propose it.

In addition to the cost overrun, here are other concerns I believe will cause this to end up being a big turkey for the taxpayer and a disservice to students, parents and teachers:

No one can explain what will happen when the students who don't get to buy one of these computers falls into the lower-income class (even after "creative financing"). Is the School Board prepared for discrimination lawsuits?

Who has calculated how much of the school day will be spent learning how to use the computer, and what happens to those students who do not have one? Are these kids intermingled in the same class or will we have elitist classrooms? Will the non-computer students have to endure the unfair delays to their education to accommodate the needs of those who are experiencing technical problems?

How prepared are teachers, administrators and parents to deal with excuses for late work like, "My computer crashed and I lost all my data?" Will these students be afforded more time to complete their "lost" projects at the disadvantage to those who finish on time and do not have computers?

What accommodations (again to the detriment of other students) will be made for loss of the computer through theft, neglect or breakdown? How long will it take to replace the machine? What happens when the student needs to redo all of her work? How long will he be allowed to do so? Will the schools have all the computers networked in order to establish back-up servers to store data? If so, who will pay for this infrastructure expenditure?

How many tax dollars will be spent sending teachers to learn how to teach with computers, especially if the teachers are not tech savvy? At what point are they told to do something different?

How soon will it be before the schools say the computers are no longer current and need to be replaced because the school district has new software incompatible with existing computers? My experience with the advent of technology in my former workplace was that I spent a lot of valuable time learning new software because someone in the organization decided upgrades were required. This will cause a never-ending financial burden to families.

As a parent this whole issue is not a concern to me, as my child is no longer in school. If he were, though, I'd be very wary.

As a property owner and taxpayer, though, I am really concerned. I hope others feel the same.

- Vilmar Tavares lives in Spring Hill. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.

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