By a 3-2 margin, the Kanawha County, West Virginia, school board has spiked a plan to give every teacher at the district’s new Riverside High School a laptop computer when the $32 million facility opens this fall. School officials say the lack of support could devastate the school and delay its opening in late August.

“The school was designed around the concept of laptops and portability,” Superintendent Ron Duerring told board members during a contentious board meeting June 3. “To not follow through renders the school useless.”

Under the board’s new plan, which was put forth June 14, Riverside teachers would receive desktop computers instead of laptops. But a technology plan approved by the board in 1996 called for a laptop for every teacher to take to and from the new school, and school officials said the new building would have to be rewired to accommodate the desktop computers.

“A PC is not going to fit the modifications made for laptops,” said board member Cheryle Hall, who voted for the laptop proposal. The rooms were not wired for desktop computers, nor do they have enough air-conditioning to accommodate the heat generated by the larger units, Hall argued.

Besides rewiring rooms and ordering new furniture to hold the computers, officials must scrap their 3-year-old technology plan and draw up a new one. They also fear they will lose a $93,000 grant for cellular phones they had planned to use with the laptops.

Opponents of the laptop plan, led by board President John Luoni, said the computers cost too much, would be difficult to upgrade, and could easily be stolen or damaged. They also said it would be unfair to give the units to Riverside teachers and not to other teachers in the district.

“We just need to make sure we have a plan that makes sense, with reasonably priced equipment,” Luoni said. “In the future, we’re going to have to be more prudent in the use of technology in the county.”

Officials had proposed to buy 100 Compaq Armada 1750 laptops at $2,733 each. They wanted to buy an additional 70 laptops for students, as well as PCs for classrooms and labs. All told, they proposed to spend $592,000 on computers.

The new plan would provide about 200 desktop computers for teachers, labs, and classrooms, plus another 30 to 60 laptops for students to share. Those laptops would be about $700 cheaper than the units Riverside teachers and administrators wanted and will contain fewer features.

The new plan would cost the district $365,000, about 40 percent less than the original plan.

Eleventh-hour decision

It wasn’t the debate itself, but the timing that reportedly irked Duerring the most.

“You’re at the 11th hour and are now saying ‘no,'” he told board members at the June 3 meeting, suggesting they should have raised these concerns before they approved the original technology plan in 1996. “Could we have had a $20 million school instead of a $30 million school?”

At a November 1997 meeting, the board voted 4-1 to allocate money to buy 100 laptops for Riverside teachers. Luoni voted against the measure, but board member Betty Jarvis, who helped turn down the laptop proposal, approved the purchase at the 1997 meeting.

Teachers wanted to use the laptops to keep grades and attendance records and to create lesson plans and exams. They planned to carry the laptops to and from home and from classroom to classroom so they’d always have access to their files.

But some parents argued that the school could purchase desktop computers for half the cost of the proposed laptops.

Board members who voted down the proposal at the June 3 meeting said their decision would not have any impact on the school’s opening.

Kanawha County Schools