In a split vote Monday night, the Hays USD 489 school board approved a $238,000 purchase to replace student iPads at Hays Middle School.
Board members Lance Bickle and Greg Schwartz questioned the process of purchasing replacement devices in declaring they would not vote for the recommendation from the district’s technology committee to purchase 680 sixth-generation iPads. They were joined by Board President Mandy Fox in the 4-3 vote. Board Vice President Mike Walker and board members Luke Oborny, Sophia Rose Young and Paul Adams voted in favor.
Bickle expressed frustration with the need for touchscreen devices without considering less expensive options.
“We can absolutely get by without a touchscreen. Without a doubt,” Bickle said.
“Probably 90 percent of the other districts out there can get by without a touchscreen, but for some reason, we can’t here in USD 489,” he said.
In his presentation, Scott Summers, USD 489 director of technology, cited a survey of HMS teachers in which the majority said they use touchscreens in their classes on an hourly basis and that removing touchscreen capability would negatively impact student learning.
Bickle — who was co-founder and owner of a local technology sales and support company for 11 years — disagreed with some of the teachers’ comments from the survey.
“I guess a polite way to put it is very perplexing,” he said of his reaction to the comments.
“Without the touchscreen it would be hard for middle school students to take notes on paper and keep them orderly,” he said, citing one teacher’s comment.
“Seriously? Have we fallen that far that our kids can’t keep their notes in order now on paper and pencil?” he said.
He read another comment: “I can’t grade a device that isn’t a touchscreen.”
“Again, how do others do it, yet we can’t?” he said.
“Many of them talk about copy and paste, because I guess that isn’t possible with anything other than an iPad. Better yet, ‘With a touchscreen we have higher quality education.’ I’ll be honest, I wasn’t aware that a touchscreen could do that,” he said.
“It seems like, at the end of the day, the decision was made and everybody’s mind was made up that we’re going with iPads and we’re going to find every reason we can why we shouldn’t go with anything else,” Bickle said.
Schwartz echoed that concern.
“We go out and pick a brand, and then we figure out how they fit, and those aren’t good ways to save money. They’re not sound ways to do this,” Schwartz said.
“I’m not aware of many governmental entities, especially those in this community, that go about it this way,” he said.
Schwartz said his frustrations weren’t limited to the device replacements, but extended to other purchases and construction projects.
“I think it’s a board issue, I think it’s an administration issue as to how we’re bidding out projects. We’ve moved onto this construction management process, which doesn’t go out and give us competitive bids. It allows us to have somebody go hand-select the bids,” he said.
“Why aren’t we looking at other brands, and why are we brand-specific? It just doesn’t seem like that’s the smart way to do this,” he said.
Board member Paul Adams disagreed with Schwartz and Bickle, saying the board entrusted and directed the technology committee to select the options for purchase.
“I think the fact is, you’re closer to what the students do need and what they don’t,” Adams said. “We’re forming uninformed opinions often, whereas you’re in the classroom with them and maybe closer to the research.”
He did say that a board member should be included in the committee, however.
He also suggested that now might be a good time to start examining what devices might be needed when the high school devices are to be replaced three years from now.
“It’s not too soon to be thinking about that,” he said.