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—– By: Ann Costantino —–
Baltimore County’s education board will vote on a $140 million Daly Computers contract next week to lease 133,000 new Hewlett Packard laptops over the next seven years, for the system’s laptop-for-every student – or STAT – program which began in 2014 under former Superintendent S. Dallas Dance.
While some elected officials and parents are asking the district to press the pause button long enough to assess STAT before moving forward, the school system’s central office staff has created a flurry of concern for teachers, stating that unless the contract goes through now, teachers will go without computers next school year after they are forced to turn them in at the end of a four-year lease agreement.
However, according to that lease agreement between the school system and Hewlett Packard (HP), Baltimore County Public Schools will very shortly own the devices leased in 2014, for the district’s first of four staggered 48-month leases.
In April 2013, eight months after taking the helm of the district, Dance announced his vision for a laptop-for-every-student software and online learning program.
One year later, the district signed a financing agreement with HP in order to lease devices over a seven-year, 4-part staggered cycle. The district contracted with Daly to maintain and service roughly 150,000 devices through its lease refresh program, records show. Each unit was to be leased through HP for a four-year period, after which Daly would be responsible for wiping the hard drive and disposing of each unit.
The HP lease and financing agreement, which was signed on April 9, 2014 by Dance and April 14, 2014 by a representative for HP, provided roughly 14,400 devices in 2014 for all Baltimore County teachers, as well as first through third graders in 10 Baltimore County elementary schools – called Lighthouse Schools – which were selected to pioneer Dance’s STAT initiative, called Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow.
On an unrelated note, although starting in the 10 schools, Dance said during a 2015 keynote speech that he never intended to pilot the STAT program, and that the Lighthouse schools were just a way to start the rollout. “You’ve got to start slow to go fast, and the only way we can do this is to have a Lighthouse school approach,” Dance said. “This is where we were going to have 10 elementary schools who would literally move this work forward. We were not going to pilot it, because we were very clear that ‘you’re not piloting anything.’ We needed 10 schools to start this transformation for us.”
The laptop leases would be staggered to accommodate the rollout as more grades and schools joined the initiative each year, after the 10 initial “Lighthouse” schools.
After the first year in 2014, the remaining grades and elementary schools were added, eventually spreading to all grades in the middle schools, as well as three high schools which Dance said would be “piloting” STAT. The three high schools originally were to pilot STAT for one year. Dance ultimately agreed to two.
Should the board vote in favor of the contract next week, the STAT program will expand to all remaining high schools, starting in the 2018-2019 school year.
Although a service agreement with Daly Computers states Daly is responsible for wiping hard drives and disposing of the devices after each laptop’s four-year lease expires, the lease agreement with HP states the devices belong to the school system at the expiration of each 48-month lease.
Yet, in response to concerns brought by board members and parents who are asking the system to further analyze the STAT program before entering the $140 million contract with Daly, the school system’s central office staff is informing teachers they will lose their devices next school year unless the board votes in favor of the contract next week.
Central office staff members have also organized a rally for the March 20 board meeting to show Baltimore County’s Board of Education that there is support for the expansion of STAT.
But some schools are being told that unless this contract passes next week, their devices will be returned to the leasing company.
In a March 12 email, Ryan Imbriale, Baltimore County schools’ executive director of Innovative Learning, who with former Superintendent Dallas Dance spearheaded the system’s laptop program, warned an advisory group that even the Lighthouse schools stand to lose their devices should the board not vote favorably next week.
Imbriale wrote, “Baltimore County Public Schools entered into a 7-year contract to lease devices in 2014. The contract provides four staggered four-year leases…If the Board of Education does not approve the new proposed contract, existing devices will be returned to the leasing company and new devices would not be issued for all BCPS teachers and students in Grades 1-3 at Lighthouse Schools.”
However, the HP lease agreement states that after each 48-month lease expires, ownership from Hewlett Packard (the lessor) is relinquished to Baltimore County schools (the lessee).
The lease agreement, which was signed by all parties in April of 2014, means that the majority of the first-year devices will become the property of Baltimore County Public Schools by the end of this school year – if not before.
Even education leaders may have been given inaccurate information.
During a March 6 Baltimore County school board meeting, Abby Beytin, president of the Teachers Association for Baltimore County – or TABCO – told the board, “If this contract is delayed, the teachers will not have the device in time and the master agreement will be broken. If the contract does not go forward at all, the teachers will have no devices to use next year because the current devices, which are leased, will have to be returned… Teachers cannot do their work without their devices,” Beytin said. “They will not be able to answer emails, access curriculum, work on the grade book and the list goes on and on.”
A school employee also told The Baltimore Post that Imbriale and employees from the Department of Innovative Learning “are making teachers think they will not have computers next year unless the contract is approved.”
With Baltimore County as owner of those initial devices obtained in 2014, the danger of teachers losing their laptops appears to be entirely in hands of Baltimore County Public Schools.
Neither the school system’s Department of Innovative Learning which leads STAT, nor the Department of Fiscal Services which handles the system’s contracts, responded to a request for comment or clarification. Due to traveling, Ms. Beytin could not be reached for comment.
At large board member, Ann Miller, told The Baltimore Post, “The erroneous information which has been provided to the board with almost no time to review it is staggering. From riling up teachers to fear they will be left without devices come June, to conflicting information on expenditures to date on the current device contract, BCPS has not done itself any service in presenting a convincing argument for approval of a $140 million contract.”
Julie Henn, also an at large member of the board, told The Post, “I have had it with BCPS’ intentional misrepresentation of facts and use of scare tactics to push their own agenda. It is bad enough that they mislead the Board by withholding information and providing conflicting information, but to resort to misleading teachers is beyond reproach,” Henn said. “How can the Board restore public trust in the system when we, ourselves, continue to be deceived and bullied into acquiescing to the agenda of the former superintendent – a convicted criminal? This is yet another malfeasance that demonstrates why an independent legislative audit is so critical.”
The HP lease agreement and related documents can be viewed here: MWE-807-14 FINAL Contract – 05232014.