Why No Discussion Before Sandwich Schools iPad Buy?

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By: Michael J. Rausch
Published: 08/31/12

A member of the Sandwich School Committee took Superintendent C. Richard Canfield to task this week over his decision to buy iPads for students at Sandwich High School without first consulting with the committee.

“I’m not sure why in terms of the iPads we had no discussion,” Robert P. Catalini said during Wednesday night’s school committee meeting. He admitted that he agreed with the purchase and felt that it is good for the school district to be on “the leading edge of technology.” However, he questioned why there was no vote taken, similar to when the school committee approves new textbooks. He said the move lacked transparency, on the superintendent’s part.

The school district recently purchased 450 Apple iPad 3s that have been distributed among this year’s freshmen and sophomore classes, as well as the teachers who will be teaching those grades.

Cost of the iPads was roughly $255,000 and with necessary upgrades to Internet access and other equipment at the school, the total cost of providing the new tablets to the students came to about $300,000, schools business manager Michelle F. Austin told the committee. The cost of the iPads was covered through money that had been set aside in the budget for textbooks, as well as an educational discount offered by Apple.

Dr. Canfield responded to Mr. Catalini by saying that it was not required for the school committee to approve the purchase of a computer or an iPad. He also said that during the budgeting process he made it clear during meetings with the town finance committee and the board of selectmen that if there was any money left over in the Fiscal Year 2012 budget, that he would invest it in technology. The superintendent pointed out that he was asked at the time by selectman Frank Pannorfi if he would ever buy tablet technology instead of textbooks and he told the selectman “absolutely.”

“So, this question of transparency I personally take issue with,” Dr. Canfield said to Mr. Catalini. “It’s not my nature, it’s not the nature of my staff, we try to be very transparent,” he said.

The testy exchange between the superintendent and Mr. Catalini over the iPads occurred during a general budget discussion, after Mr. Catalini had asked if the school committee was giving any money back to the town as part of the closeout on the FY 2012 budget.

Committee member Nancy A. Crossman announced that the closeout happened on July 14, and Ms. Austin said that a little more than $156,000 was being returned to the town. Mr. Catalini then asked why students in grades 7 through 12 were being charged an $80 activity fee when money was going back to the town.
“We ask people for checks and then at the end of the year, in effect, those checks go right back to the town,” he said.

“I think that sometimes when it comes to the fees, we need to be a little more diligent, quite frankly,” Mr. Catalini said.

Mr. Catalini then complimented Dr. Canfield on his management of the budget in his first year as superintendent, and admitted that the fees were a separate issue from what was really bothering him, which was the purchase of the iPads.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t have a discussion on a $250,000 purchase.” he said.

Dr. Canfield defended his actions by saying that timing was essential to the purchase of the tablet computers.

The superintendent said that it was brought to his attention that the money for the purchase was available and he had to spend it or lose it by returning it to the town. He reminded Mr. Catalini that the committee meets every two weeks, and “there are some things that I just can’t decide by a full committee.”

“That’s the charge you give me and that the law gives me as superintendent in Massachusetts,” Dr. Canfield said. He said that he “didn’t have the luxury of coming to you to ask ‘gee, should I spend $250,000 on the iPads.’ “ He said that he stands by his decision, calling it the right thing to have done, and he believes that there is great support for the purchase among the students and parents in the school district.

“I’m not questioning the purchase, “I’m in full support,” Mr. Catalini repeated. “I’m questioning the lack of a discussion, so I’ll leave it there.”

“And I’m giving you the reason it didn’t occur,” Dr. Canfield answered.


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