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MACCRAY submits single-campus proposal to state

ACGC District in west central Minn. OKs initiative for iPads for next year

ATWATER -- On a unanimous vote the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School Board has approved a new learning initiative that will put iPads in classrooms.

The K-12 teachers will get iPad tablet computers in January and be trained on how to use the technology to augment lessons and, in some cases, to replace actual textbooks.

Students will have access to iPads when the 2012-13 school year begins next fall.

Superintendent Sherri Broderius was thrilled the board approved the plan.

"This is a great learning initiative leap -- a leap of faith in our kids and in our school," said Broderius. "We're going to make it really count for our kids."

"I'm excited to see this role out," said Chairman Joel Gratz, after the proposal was approved during Monday's regular meeting.

The district intends to lease the iPads for a three-year period.

The total cost for that period, including purchasing eBooks, is $270,730.

The School Board expects reduced curriculum expenses because the district will purchase less expensive eBooks rather than buying hard-copy textbooks.

Those savings are estimated at $93,288, which brings the net total three-year cost to $177,442, or $59,147 per year.

Under the plan the kindergarten through fourth-grade classes will share 60 iPads that will be transported to classrooms on two carts. The elementary school currently has 278 students.

The fifth- through eighth-grade classes will also share 60 iPads on two carts. Those grades currently have 262 students.

The district will lease 235 iPads that will allow each ninth- through 12th-grader to have access to an iPad.

The district has received some grant money to offset the cost, but the board is not increasing the budget to pay for the iPads.

Business Manager Dan Tait said funds that had been budgeted for replacing other technology will be used to pay for the iPads. That means some equipment, such as older desktop computers, will be used another year or two before they are replaced.

During the next year, the district will continue to tweak the technology infrastructure that is needed to support the iPads.

The elementary school building in Atwater and Junior/Senior High building in Grove City now have wireless Internet capabilities but there are a few bugs to work out.

"The whole goal has been to get the infrastructure set up first," said Broderius. "I don't want there to be any glitches when the teachers are using them, I don't want there to be any glitches when the kids are using them. I want everything in place," she said.

Broderius said she wants to make sure the infrastructure is "strong and solid" and that teachers are trained so that they are "fully prepared" to use the iPads before they begin to teach with them.

The School Board members said they also want to get a primer on how the iPads will be used in the classrooms. It's expected that parents will also get a look at how their children will be using them during a future parent-teacher session.

The board on Monday also approved the audit for the fiscal year that ended on June 30.

Steve Wischmann from Kern, Dewenter, Viere, of St. Cloud, praised the district for its financial picture and gave it the highest ranking.

"It's a very good report," said Wischmann, drawing attention to the district's "lean" administrative expenses, consistent revenues, high allocation of funds dedicated to student contact and a solid fund balance.

The district had set a goal for an unassigned fund balance of 12 percent of the annual budget, but currently has a balance of 24 percent.

Wischmann said that's an "adequate" amount for ACGC to have on hand for cash-flow purposes while the state is holding back aid as part of its budget-balancing bill. "You're right where you need to be."

The district's revenues are negatively affected by declining enrollment and because of a net loss of students who use open enrollment to leave the district.

Statute allows all Minnesota's public school students the opportunity to apply to attend school outside of the school district where they live. State aid follows the student to the new district.

Wischmann said, however, that considering that the district a few years ago was in statutory operating debt -- meaning the unreserved fund at the time was not enough to meet state standards -- the district is continuing a positive trend.

Broderius said Monday that she is not surprised by the good financial report.

"We follow the finances very carefully," said Broderius, who was the high school principal when the district was in statutory operating debt. "I've lived that and we don't want to go back. We're being very cautious."

The board approved a revised budget for 2012-13 that includes expenses of $10.2 million.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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