School Committee Reapproves Chromebooks With New Funding Formula

Earlier this year, the Westford School Committee approved Chromebooks for all incoming freshmen at Westford Academy. Last week they revisited the issue after the funding mechanism for the Chromebooks met an unexpected turn.

Also known as the “One-to-World Program,” Westford School Department Superintendent Bill Olsen and Assistant Superintendent Kerry Clery brought the issue back after it was revealed that only five Chinese and German foreign exchange students had enrolled so far through the Cambridge Institute for the 2016-’17 School Year.

It was expected that tuition fees from 12 foreign exchange students would be needed to pay for the Chromebook purchases as well as other ancillary costs associated with the Chromebook program.

During the meeting’s public forum, Westford resident Jane Haney urged the committee to wait before re-approving funding for the Chromebooks, citing the funding shortfall as well as concerns that the devices may not be enough for the school’s instructional needs.

Clery told the committee that the $112,500 would be still be feasible. First, she revealed that after renegotiations, the price per Chromebook had been reduced from $275 to $209 and that the Westford Academy trustees were willing to pay $5,000 toward their technical support registration.

Due to the lack of foreign students, an additional English Language Learning teacher wouldn’t need to be hired and $30,000 already approved in the technology infrastructure budget for Fiscal Year ’17 would be transferred since the infrastructure upgrades were accomplished solely with Fiscal Year ’16 funds.

There would also be a $5,000 cut in textbook purchases.

Jane Haney asks the School Committee to wait on Chromebooks.

Jane Haney asks the School Committee to wait on Chromebooks.

Clery also said that it is possible that seven more foreign exchange students could enroll during the summer, although the funding mechanisms needed to be in place regardless of whether those students materialize. She also noted that faculty would need time over the summer to prepare.

Students not wishing to use the Chromebooks would be able to bring in their own devices, although there is currently no formal “Bring Your Own Device” policy.

School Committee Member Erika Kohl still voiced concern, echoing Haney’s sentiments that more time is needed to examine the proposal and perfect planning for the One-to-World program’s rollout. Kohl was particularly concerned with the program’s financial aspects.

That opinion was countered by fellow School Committee Member David Keele, who felt enough time had been spent on this topic.

“I don’t think we’re going to get it right the first time, but I accept that because it’s part of the process,” he said. “I want to move forward and I don’t want to have this conservation next year.”

Student Representative Steven McMaster conveyed student concerns, although he noted that some of those concerns dwelled on misconceptions that had dissipated somewhat.

“I don’t think everybody’s happy, but they’ve kind of accepted it,” said McMaster on the upper classmen students who will not be getting Chromebooks. “I think everybody’s going to be fine, it’s not a big deal for us.”

The motion carried 5-1-0, with Kohl in opposition. Avery Adam was absent.