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updated: 2/5/2014 12:31 PM

District 220 approves technology fee increase

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The Barrington 220 board of education voted Tuesday to increase next year's technology fee by $50 to pay for the insurance costs of the new computer technology they will purchase as part of their digital age learning initiative.

The vote, which was unanimous, reaffirmed the board's dedication to roll out a plan that would put a MacBook Air in the hands of every Barrington High School student next year and gradually provide iPads for middle and elementary school students.

Despite that vote, all of the details of the plan have not been ironed out.

The key concern is how the program, estimated to cost the district $800,000 next year, will fit into next year's budget -- a task that board President Brian Battle said will be difficult.

"It will be tighter than I've ever seen it," Battle said. "I'm nervous."

Several members expressed their desire to add the digital learning program without cutting other programs or firing teachers and school staff members.

To accomplish that task, board members proposed several ways the district could offset the cost of the program.

Board member Sandra Bradford said they should explore allowing parents the option to treat their children's school-issued technology as a rent-to-buy type program.

Bradford said she has been approached by parents of some of the high school students who were given MacBook Airs this year as part of a limited pilot program interested in doing just that already.

"They would tell me that if the district gets rid of the laptops, they'd go out and buy one on their own," Bradford said.

Board member Richard Burkhart said he would like the board to seriously consider cutting other programs to make room for the digital age learning plan because of how important the program is for students.

Burkhart said the district should tell parents who are concerned about paying money out of their pocket for the equipment that the technology program is a part of the district's college preparatory program and it is worth their investment.

Superintendent Tom Leonard joked that the board was so much in agreement on preventing deficit spending that he thought they were going to start singing Kumbaya.

Battle asked that the finance committee be tasked at their public meeting next week with going through the budget proposal and looking to trim where they can.

The board has until September to finalize next school year's budget, but they must inform any teachers who will be laid off of their fate before spring break. At present the board plans on eliminating 11 teachers next year.

Board member Patricia Kazmier said the staff reduction has to do with a decrease in the elementary school student population and not as a way to pay for the digital age learning program.

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