The West Burlington School District is making a major purchase that will place new technology in the hands of its students. At the same time, the district is preparing to ask the community for more help in paying for such initiatives.
The school board voted this month to purchase more than 900 Google Chromebooks and to proceed with a special election in early April on a new Physical Plant & Equipment Levy.
The Chromebooks will replace the KUNOS tablets, which the district purchased for its 1-1 initiative several years ago. The district is suing the company from which it purchased the tablets over poor performance and delayed responses from the company.
Superintendent Dave Schmitt said he is confident the Chromebooks will work much better for the district.
"There is research out there, articles that state just about 50% of all the students in the United States who are in 1-1 environments utilize Chromebooks," said Schmitt. "Not necessarily to go by what our neighbors are doing, but it helps to know these seem to be the chosen devices for schools around the nation."
He said the district plans to purchase about 800 devices for its students, 100 for staff and then a few dozen more to have on hand. The total price tag will be about $300,000, which the district budgeted for this year.
"We set a timeline of early March to get them to the staff so they could get acclimated to them, then this spring, we will make the purchase for (the students) so we can have them on-hand for August."
This is the type of purchase that could be funded by the district's PPEL, which can be used on technology and infrastructure. For years, the district's property tax rate included $0.67/$1,000 of assessed valuation to fund the PPEL.
The levy expired June 30, 2015, after voters on two occasions rejected the district's request to double it to $1.34/$1,000 and extend it for ten years. Doubling the rate would bring in roughly $200,000 annually.
Schmitt said that money is needed, especially at the elementary school, where the district plans to upgrade the pick-up/drop-off location, the playground, and the kitchen. So the school board plans to hold the special election on the PPEL on Tuesday, April 5.
"The voters need to know that we will levy that full dollar amount this year, but the board does have the flexibility to not levy the full $1.34 if [it] sees fit," said Schmitt. "The best news on all that, when we certify our budget in April, we are still going to reduce taxes by more than $1.00/$1,000, the overall [tax rate] by more than $1.00."
Schmitt said the final language for the ballot question will be approved in February.
He said among other projects, the district will need to address the roofs at each of its buildings.