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Watertown Could Become a Bring Your Own Tech Device District

Students would bring a tablet or handheld device to school, but in the meantime the schools are replacing their laptops and buying their own tech devices.

School officials have $158,000 in the budget for next school year to keep computers, tablets and other devices up to date, but in the future the schools may be cutting the tech budget by having students bring their own portable technology to school.

When George Skuse, the district’s systems administrator, made his presentation to the Budget and Finance subcommittee he said he would need about $270,000 to replace laptop computers, tablets (such as iPads), handheld devices (such as iPod Touch) and other items, such as overhead projectors and electronic white boards. In the next 3 to 5 years, however, he said he could see Watertown becoming a “bring your own” device district, where students would bring a tablet or handheld device from home.

School Committee member Michael Shepard said he is skeptical about technology being the answer to everything in education.

“My own perspective is I am for technology, but I don’t think it’s a replacement,” Shepard said. “I want to see a detailed play for how it will be used before approving a dime for tablets at the elementary schools.”

He prefers seeing the money spent on Smartboards (electronic white boards) which allow teachers to gather real time data that can be used in a lesson, and to replace books that are falling apart.

In the meantime, the schools are replacing their tech devices. To do all they would like, it would cost $270,00, including $60,000 for 60 laptops at Hosmer School, $60,000 for tablets for the system and $10,000 for handheld devices. Another $60,000 is planned to improve wireless network coverage at Watertown High School, $30,000 for 30 laptops to go on carts – which provide mobile computer labs – and $25,000 for electronic white boards.

District officials try to replace computers every five years, said interim Assistant Superintendent Dari Donovan, but computers at Lowell and Cunniff will not be replaced until next year – after six years.

Shepard said he would like to explore leasing computers and tablets to cut down the cost of purchasing and repair.

School Committee member David Leon suggested the town look into buying computers through an educational collaborative of several districts or team up with a neighboring district to get more bang for the buck.

Technology and the entire fiscal 2013 budget will be presented to the School Committee tonight at the Public Hearing on the budget. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.

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