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LePage Administration Picks PC's over Mac Laptops for Maine Students
04/29/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

Maine school districts aren't making any commitments yet on whether they'll stick with Apple laptops and tablets or switch to PCs. Over the weekend, the LePage administration announced that it had struck a new deal with Hewlett Packard to provide laptops to thousands of students throughout Maine. The administration says one reason it chose the HP ProBook is that it runs Microsoft Windows 8, which is the most commonly used operating system in the workplace. Jay Field reports.

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Apple has had the exclusive contract with the state since the Maine Learning Technology Initiative's laptop program began in 2002.

"We'll struggle, as other school districts in Maine, to make a switch," says Bill Webster, superintendent in Lewiston, where elementary school students and teachers have been working for years now with Apple notebooks.

Webster says teachers have grown especially attached to them. "It's not only the hardware, but all the professional development that goes with it," Webster says.

For the first time this year, a committee of representatives from Maine and two other states, Hawaii and Vermont, solicited bids jointly in an effort to cut costs. The committee rated laptops and tablets by quality and cost.

The least expensive and highest quality choice was Apple's 32 gigabyte iPad for $217. The device Maine eventually settled on, the HP ProBook, is slightly more expensive at $254 per laptop, and was ranked fourth on quality out of the five notebooks and tablets the committee considered.

"The governor was getting a lot of feedback that wanted Windows-based software - that's where the business community was. That's where higher ed was," says Stephen Bowen, Maine's Education Commissioner.

But Bowen says many school districts have also called his office, saying they want to stick with Apple. "They would have that option. And so that's basically what we've said to districts," he says. "The state's investment would be capped at the HP solution cost. But you could choose what you wanted to choose."

So if districts want to buy MacBook Airs instead, they'll have to pick up the difference, assuming they're more expensive than the HP machines.

What's unclear, however, is whether the per-unit price on an Apple notebook will be as favorable as it would have been if the state had decided to sign another contract with the company. Betsy Webb is superintendent of the Bangor Schools.

"There has been chatter, but I can't confirm this, that the Airbooks would be $15 more per machine. But we don't know - do you have to buy software on top of that?" Webb says. "And so those are the kinds of details that would be necessary for us to make a decision."

Bowen says the department's technology team is currently in talks with Apple and other alternative vendors about pricing.

"I think the vendors were thinking, 'Well, I'm giving you that tier one price because we think we're going to get all of the business,'" Bowen says. "Now what we need to do is talk to the vendors, confirm on things like price, what the packages will look like, what will be available to schools."

But even if MacBook Airs are available at a competitive price, Bill Webster, the Lewiston superintendent, says there's a problem that would make going with the machines difficult. "School districts that decide to continue with Apple are going to lose the state's professional development support, and I am very concerned about that."

Webster says he and his technology staff have some tough decisions to make in the coming weeks.


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