On the recommendation of Sweetwater Union High School District interim superintendent Ed Brand, the board voted February 21 to purchase iPads for all seventh-graders in the next school year.
Trustee Bertha Lopez cast the dissenting vote, saying that she supports technology for students but there are more important construction and repair priorities in the district.
Parent Maty Adato pointed to the Eastlake Observatory as a more appropriate place to spend bond construction money. Adato said the observatory has not been available for student use due to dry-rot in the floor.
The cost of the tablets will be $4.3 million; $1.8 million will come from Proposition O funds, $1.5 million from Mello Roos funds, $500,000 from federal grant money, and $500,000 from textbook funding.
Two members of the audience who live in Mello Roos areas argued that the iPad purchases are not an appropriate expenditure for Mello Roos funds and that there are only two district schools in the Mello Roos area, which means money collected for a specific residential area would be spread over the whole district.
The student board representative, Barbara Padilla, said she thought the money would be more wisely spent on something that would enhance all the students’ learning, such as white boards.
Some critics suggested Brand wanted to give the seventh-graders iPads to lure them away from charter schools; those critics suggested that improving the quality of education in the district would be a more effective strategy.
Brand offered motivation for the tablet initiative by referring to the role technology will be playing in 2025. “All the inventions that have occurred in humankind from the beginning of time to today will be done in the next 12-and-a-half years…and what are the kinds of technology that will be utilized by our students?” He pointed to nanotechnology and biotechnology.
Brand also said that Chinese students are going to school more hours and more days…” With iPads, he continued, “students can be learning 7/24/365.”
The citizens’ oversight bond committee, according to Brand, had vetted the project and agreed that bond language allowed for the purchase.
In a follow-up phone interview, David Butler, bond oversight committee member and former San Diego County assessor, said the committee agreed that the bond language appears to permit the purchase of tablets. However, Butler expressed surprise that the district had moved forward so rapidly on this purchase, as the bond committee had raised many concerns about the expenditure and the district’s long-range plans.