Opinions differ on tech needs

In some local schools, handing out a laptop or tablet to each student isn’t a priority.

Neither Clark-Pleasant nor Greenwood has a school stocked with tablets or laptops for every student. That’s partly because of the cost, since providing a computer or laptop for every ninth- through 12th-grader can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and neither school district knows where that money would come from, according to Greenwood assistant superintendent of learning Rick Ahlgrim and Clark-Pleasant director of curriculum and instruction Cameron Rains.

That’s a marked difference compared with the other four public school districts in Johnson County. Center Grove, Franklin, Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson and Edinburgh already provide devices to all of their high school students and some of their middle school students. Each district also is working now to figure out how to replace the devices in four to five years.

At Greenwood, not all school officials are convinced it’s necessary to provide a device for every student. Greenwood students share devices. The middle and high schools have about one computer for every three students. Students also can bring their own devices to use in class with teachers’ permission, Ahlgrim said.

“We’re not sure we see a learning environment developing where kids are on a device all day, every day,” Ahlgrim said.

School officials know that other local high schools have made providing a device for every student a priority, but he said that’s not a concern that administrators are hearing from Greenwood parents.

“We’re just not hearing from our community that a device for every kid, 24/7, is a priority,” Ahlgrim said.

Even if all students at the high school or middle school had a tablet or laptop, they wouldn’t use it throughout all classes. While teachers and students use the Internet for in-class projects and homework assignments, they also spend much of their time talking, reading and working in small groups. Right now, having one computer for every three students is enough, Ahlgrim said.

Clark-Pleasant school officials want to be able to provide devices for students eventually so that they’ll know how to use them in college and their careers, Rains said. The school district bought 120 devices that some of the high school’s more than 1,700 students can use in specific classes, and students can bring their own devices to use in class — most often smartphones, Rains said.

No timeline has been set for buying more.

“I think it’s fair to say we’re still investigating a couple different fronts,” Rains said. “It’s inevitable. The world in which we live operates in collaboration with technology.”

One of the reasons Clark-Pleasant has not bought devices for all students is because of property tax caps, which limit the amount of money the school district collects for capital projects and debt. And now, Clark-Pleasant officials are in the middle of a districtwide assessment, including how easy or difficult it would be for students to connect to the Internet with wireless devices at all of the buildings. School officials should have that study completed by the end of the school year.

After that, school officials will consider how to pay for devices for all of the students at one or more of the schools and when that could be possible, Rains said.

“It’s something we’re very interested in and committed to try to make progress toward,” Rains said. “But no decisions have been made.”

If Greenwood bought a device for every student, school officials would have two ways of paying for it — and neither one is ideal, Ahlgrim said.

The school district could spend money from the capital projects fund, which is used to pay for building maintenance and repair and for technology upgrades. But if more money is spent on technology, less is left to renovate schools, Ahlgrim said. The second option would be to borrow money, which would add to the school district’s debt.

And because tablets and laptops need to be replaced about every five years, the school district would need to either continue spending money from the capital projects fund or adding to its debt payments, Ahlgrim said.

“At some point, the community is going to say, ‘Wait a minute,'” Ahlgrim said.

At a glance

Here’s a look at the devices local school districts provide their secondary students:

Center Grove: iPads are issued to all of the high school students and eighth-graders at the middle schools.

Clark-Pleasant: Students can bring their own devices.

Edinburgh: Devices are issued to middle and high school students.

Franklin: Chromebooks are issued to all of the high school students.

Greenwood: Students can bring their own devices.

Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson: iPads are issued to all middle and high school students.