Lehigh Valley

ASD directors scrutinize proposed Chromebook purchase

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - If you buy something and it breaks, do you fix it or just throw it out and buy another?

That was the question before the Allentown School District's board of directors during their committee-of-the-whole meeting Thursday night at the administration building. The district lobbied directors to purchase 90 Chromebook 11 3180 laptop computers for South Mountain Middle School and another 90 Chromebook 11 3180 touch screen laptops and Chrome Education for Trexler Middle School.

To pay for the purchase, the district plans to use Title 1 Academic Improvement funds in the combined amount of $44,730.

However, directors probed the purchase.

Vice President Ce-Ce Gerlach asked Superintendent Thomas Parker a simple question – if these computers break, can we fix them?

"No," the superintendent replied.

Parker then added that the district had an excellent IT staff that was capable of "fixing everything we currently have." But the new arrivals would require more hires in the department and time for the already existing staff to learn how to repair them. The superintendent added that there was no doubt the IT department in the district would have to expand, meaning more positions would have to be created, to handle the changes.

The answer did not placate Director Lisa Conover, who was concerned the district was going to spend money on the computers and if they broke down, no one would be able to fix them without the board authorizing the expansion of the department.

Specifically, Conover inquired what warranty the district had negotiated on the contract for the Chromebook purchases.

Neither Parker or any administrator in attendance Thursday night could answer the question. Ultimately Director Sara Brace did after closely inspecting the fine print. The answer was one year.

The board then directed Parker to find out how much it would cost to lease the computers instead. They wanted an answer before the voted on the purchase at their April 25 meeting.

Parker indicated Thursday night he would do just that, but reminded directors that leasing a modest number of computers could increase costs, not lower them.

In other news, directors forwarded a measure where the district would purchase what was called a "portable translation device" in each of the schools to "improve parent communication." The devices will enable the district to address parents in their native languages, other than English.

"With a robust mechanism for ASD staff to use to improve family participation and inclusion, we envision an increase in family engagement and satisfaction overall," according to ASD documents.

The district will spend $53,637.60 for them if approved at the April 25 regular board meeting.

In other business, ASD did not hold a finance committee-of-the-whole meeting Thursday night. Parker said a special meeting will be held April 22.

Directors Charles Thiel and Robert Smith were absent from Thursday night's committee meetings.

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