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updated: 1/29/2014 5:18 AM

District 220 board supports laptop plan

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A majority of the Barrington Area Unit District 220 board members on Tuesday agreed to support a plan to put a laptop into the hands of every student at Barrington High School next year.

Several board members expressed their support for the program, referred to as digital age learning, at the board's first public meeting on next year's budget.

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Board member Joe Ruffalo said the district was falling behind other suburban districts in the area of digital age learning and that the board needed to act now.

"It's the way these things are going," Ruffalo said.

If the plan is implemented, each of the more than 3,000 students at Barrington High School would be issued an iMac Air laptop next year and in the years to come almost all students in the district would get a laptop. Now, 600 students at the high school have them as part of a pilot program, according to Jeff Arnett, the district's chief communications officer.

In coming years, the district would replace the netbooks that have been issued to the district's middle school students with iPads. Students in third grade and beyond would have iPads of their own. Kindergarten, first- and second-grade classrooms would have a set of iPads for the students to share.

In addition to deciding to go forward with the plan, which is estimated to cost $800,000, the board vowed to craft a balanced budget.

At the preliminary meeting, the board discussed several ways it could accomplish that task: by reducing the number of teachers across the district, by asking parents to contribute to the cost of the technology, by looking elsewhere in the budget to cut, or by a combination of the three.

A majority of the board members indicated Tuesday night they'd be willing to eliminate seven to 11 teaching positions at the elementary school level, which could cut more than $300,000 from the budget.

Ruffalo, who is a physics teacher at West Leyden High School in Northlake, said staff cuts would be a difficult choice because average class sizes would rise, but he said the benefits of the digital age learning program outweighed the negatives.

"Other districts are making it work," Ruffalo said. "We've got to make it work."

School board President Brian Battle said there are many external factors that could alter the district's budget, including whether the General Assembly will make the temporary state income tax increase permanent.

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