(TNS) — KENNEBUNK, Maine — The RSU 21 Board of Directors learned last week that Gov. Paul LePage's plan to eliminate funding for the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) Program could significantly increase the district's technology budget over the next two years, based on preliminary estimates by Technology Director Jamie Jansen.
Within the current budget, the cost of laptops and supporting infrastructure came in at $444,660 for 2017. The estimated FY 18 budget laid out by Jansen is $586,209, after an expected single year grant from the state. Jansen said MLTI Director Mike Muir has all but guaranteed that the district will receive $102,000 in grant money which is the equivalent of the seventh and eighth grade laptops.
The MLTI program started in 2002 under then Gov. Angus King, bringing 17,000 Apple laptops to students and teachers in all seventh and eighth grade classrooms in the state. In 2009 the state funded program expanded into Maine high schools.
LePage's proposed 2018 budget does not include funding for the MLTI program, leaving school districts with the challenge of funding technology that both students and teachers have become dependent on at the local level.
"MLTI is gone in the governor's budget," Superintendent Katie Hawes told the board. "It came about it 2002 under Angus King, and has been an ongoing process since, and it's now gone."
Hawes said the finance committee has been working with Jansen to come up with a technology plan for the district without state funding, but the bite to the budget is going to be big no matter what is decided.
RSU 21 has been using Macbook Air and iPad mini devices under the MLTI program, but is looking at making the switch to Google Chromebooks to save a substantial amount of money, according to Hawes. Hawes said the Macbooks cost roughly $300,000 and the Chromebooks would be about one third of that. She said the plan is to sell the existing Apple Macbooks and use the proceeds to move the district to Chromebooks. Hawes said Jansen is mapping out a replacement plan for the devices, which typically have to be replaced every three to five years.
Board members Lionel Menard and Jeff Cole expressed shock at the increase in the budget.
"This is a ton of money ... We should look at every option that's out there," Menard said. "Next year we are going to be stuck with the full bill."
Hawes said the administrators, the finance committee and Jansen have been working on this for the past seven or eight months, since the state released budget details.
"We've turned over a lot of options. We've looked at a lot of different angles and looked all of the cost pieces. We've had several meetings with Mike Muir and others at the state. We did our due diligence over the last seven months," Hawes said.
"I'm very frustrated by this. I want to do my due diligence too. I want to see the data so I can tell that to the taxpayers, and I haven't seen that yet," Cole said.
Finance Committee chair Matt Fadiman said the committee will bring the information to the next meeting of the full board with cost reduction options.
©2017 Portsmouth Herald, N.H., distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.