In order to continue with its one-to-one student Chromebook initiative and to utilize CARES Act funding, the Cambridge-Isanti School Board approved the purchase of 1,200 Chromebooks during its July 23 meeting.
Through the Coronavirus Relief Fund, the federal CARES Act provides for payments to state and local governments navigating the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Director of Finance and Operations Chris Kampa explained the district is now entering its sixth year of device utilization through the Blended Learning Plan that started in 2015-2016. During the 2019-2020 school year, the district did not enter into any new lease or purchase agreements for Chromebooks; instead, the district purchased devices that were coming off lease, allowing the district to maintain its aging fleet.
During the 2020-2021 budgeting season, the administrative team decided to purchase the devices coming off lease in order to have enough devices to remain 1:1 in grades 3-12. Because of these acquisitions over the last five years, in the spring of 2020, the district was able to provide a single device to each family that needed one at the K-5 level for distance learning. However, this did not allow each student to have their own device during distance learning.
Kampa explained as the district prepares for the 2020-2021 school year, the state of Minnesota is recommending that each student has access to a device and adequate internet in the event of implementing a distance learning model.
For this reason, along with the availability of CARES Act funding, the district is re-establishing a device acquisition plan. The new plan has been revised and is transitioning to a seven-year plan, where students will receive a device in sixth grade and keep the same device through their middle school and high school years. Kampa said by adopting this replacement cycle and utilizing the funds available to the district through the CARES Act, the district will see a projected capital budget savings of $260,000 over the next five years.
Following discussion, the board approved the purchase of 1,200 Chromebooks from Tierney Brothers at the cost of $334,800, utilizing CARES Act funding. Kampa said he hopes the district will receive the Chromebooks by the time school starts in September.
Kampa explained the district will receive $840,000 in CARES Act funding, with the understanding that $40,000 will be given to non-public schools within the district. He said of the $800,000 left for the district, $400,000 has to be spent on technology.
Board Member Lynn Wedlund asked for reassurance that the district will receive the CARES Act funds, since the district did not budget for any new Chromebooks for the upcoming school year.
“I want to be assured that we do not buy these without the money in hand, because we already decided not to spend over what we have. This is a big chunk of money again,” Wedlund said. “Granted, it’s something that we need; we understand that. There’s other ways we can provide things for kids. Kids sometimes can provide their own, sometimes families can share Chromebooks. But my fear is, here we are planning on spending some $300,000. Do we have it in our hands yet? Is the state going to give it to us?”
Kampa said even if the state doesn’t utilize a distance learning model next year, the money is still being put to good use, as these Chromebooks would have been purchased in the future anyway due to the district’s 1:1 Chromebook initiative.
“These are dollars that are being given to us for this specific purpose,” Kampa said.
Kampa stated the initial purchase would be made using general fund dollars; however, once the district’s CARES plan is approved by the state, the district will seek reimbursement for the purchase from the state through the CARES funding.
Board Member Carri Levitski clarified that if the CARES funds do not come through, the district will not be reimbursed for the purchase.
“We do not anticipate that to be the case. The state has said pretty strongly that these are the dollars that will be given to you. ... Of that $840,000 we still expect to see about $800,000, of which $400,000 can only be spent on technology of some sort,” Kampa said.
Kampa said the CARES funds are given by the federal government to the state. The state then mandates what the CARES funds can be spent on.
Director of Teaching and Learning Brenda Damiani explained the district only has to share the CARES funds with schools that meet certain criteria with Title 1 programming and options, and the Cambridge Christian School was the only school that met the criteria.
“The CARES money was allocated to the district based on the fact we weren’t 1:1. Had we had a higher amount of devices in our district, we wouldn’t have gotten that money. So it’s only allocated to us because we were not 1:1,” Damiani said.
Damiani added any excess funds for technology may be used to add additional hot spots for families to better their internet access. She said during last year’s distance learning, students in kindergarten through-fifth grade had to share Chromebooks, while students in grades 6-12 had their own devices.
“It’s an equity issue to ensure that all of our students have equal access to devices,” Damiani said.
Wedlund stated she was more supportive of the purchase now that she received better clarification of the funding, and that the district will receive enough funding to cover the purchase of the devices.