South Dakota’s schools will get free computers from the state–but only after they sign a waiver agreeing they still will spend their money already budgeted for technology.

The state has sent a letter to that effect to superintendents. The first schools to return the waivers will get their computers first, said Otto Doll, commissioner of the Bureau of Information and Telecommunications.

The waiver comes after the governor’s office learned some districts might want to divert money budgeted for technology to other areas because the state is giving them the Gateway and Apple computers, Doll said.

“They all have moneys that they approved in their budgets. They obviously felt the need to spend money in that area,” he said. “We have yet to hear anybody say, ‘The last thing I need is PCs.'”

Gov. Bill Janklow announced the $8.17 million purchase of 16,040 computers for schools on July 17. The program was meant to add computers for students, not replace a district’s local purchases, he said.

Brandon Valley Superintendent George Gulson said he will sign the waiver because he already has spent the budgeted technology money. Most districts have done the same because computer orders needed to be placed in the spring, before Janklow announced the state gift, he said.

The Brandon Valley board also voted to spend $65,000 to upgrade the 311 computers the school will get from the state. The school added software, bigger monitors, and switches so they could use the equipment.

“To bring them up to the level we would normally buy … would cost $187,000,” Gulson said. “We buy a Cadillac, and that’s kind of a Chevy. It just gives us more access, so I appreciate it.”

He called the state computers a bonus. The district will be able to replace entire labs and add computers in classrooms, he said.

But the school has to find furniture to put the machines on. And the district would not have ordered as many computers itself if it had known the state machines were coming.

“When they start coming in, we’ll be scratching our heads,” he said.

Sioux Falls schools will spend all their technology budget, officials said. The district will get 2,350 computers, said Bob Jensen, information services supervisor.

The district has had to buy 100 hubs at a cost of $800 each so the computers can be hooked to the school’s network. The district also purchased software that costs $50 per computer, as well as 800 speakers.

Thirteen district staff members will install the machines, starting at the elementary school labs and followed by the middle schools, he said.

“With that many computers, it’s going to take us a few months to get them installed,” Jensen said.

Gateway started making the computers July 31, said Bob Mercer, spokesman for the governor. “They had to gear up because this essentially doubles their daily production,” he said. Shipments should start in mid-August.

Doll said the state is not asking districts to prove they have spent their budgeted technology money. But community members will know if districts are doing what they pledged. “I think we’ll find out,” he said.

He is not sure how a district would be penalized if it broke the agreement.

“I think the vast majority of the schools, they recognize this as a windfall opportunity, and they’re going to make the most of it,” he said.

The computers will be distributed according to enrollment: one new computer for about every eight students.

Currently there are about 40,000 computers in South Dakota’s public schools. That’s enough for 31.5 percent of the students to be online at the same time. The additional 16,040 computers means 44 percent can be online simultaneously, state officials said.

“This will mean we have one computer for every 2.3 students. It’s incredible what this can mean for students to reach out into the world for information,” Janklow said.

Gateway won the state contract for 15,000 E-1600 SE Windows-based personal computers at a price of $510 apiece. Schools will be able to purchase additional computers from Gateway at the same $510 price, Janklow said.

For the schools that intend to remain on an Apple system, the governor purchased 1,040 of the Apple iMac 400 Indigo units at $474 apiece.

Funding comes from unspent money remaining from the state aid to schools to program, state officials said.

Wakonda is scheduled to receive 25 computers, and Superintendent Ron Flynn said he’ll find spots for the new equipment. But he said the deal makes it look as if the schools can’t manage their own technology.

“It’s as if the state knows better than we do what we need,” Flynn told the Argus Leader.

Links:

Gov. Bill Janklow
http://www.state.sd.us/governor

Gateway Inc.
http://www.gateway.com

Apple Computer Inc.
http://www.apple.com