The San Diego County Board of Education approved a $12 million loan for the Sweetwater Union High School District.
The board voted 4-1 in favor of the loan. The cash-strapped district has until next June to pay it back.
Earlier this month the district told students and parents that it did not have enough working laptops to distribute to students enrolled at the high school and middle school levels, and said it has not collected more than $600,000 in fees.
Students returned to class from summer break on July 22.
The district is millions of dollars in debt and has decided in recent months to eliminate 82 positions including bus drivers, custodians and people who help with Special Education. In addition, 30 bus stops have been eliminated, requiring students to walk to campus.
Director of Information Technology and Enterprise Architecture David Delacalzada told principals Monday that the district does not have “sufficient funds” to repair or purchase the 4,658 laptops needed to outfit every student in the district’s high schools.
Instead, the district said it will provide laptops for freshmen, sophomore and junior classes. Seniors will have access to computers in labs on campus and through libraries.
District officials identified 4,175 devices that could be repaired and redistributed at a cost of $404,913. The rest of the needed devices would be purchased at a cost of $233,058.
The memo also states that 705 devices were not returned at the end of the last school year.
The district is also owed $640,496 in fees “that have not been collected,” Delacalzada writes.
Enrollment for the 2019-2020 year is 37,849 students.
The Sweetwater Education Association is not happy about what is happening with the laptops. In a statement to NBC 7, the teachers union said, “Teachers have developed innovative lessons which rely on the devices and with the school year beginning in 3 days it leaves little time for teachers to adjust to the limitations this decision has forced. Over the years, teachers have taken part in trainings and worked hard to integrate technology into their curriculum. Many teachers have purchased subscriptions to online resources, only to find out that seniors will not have the devices to access these resources.”
NBC 7 spoke to Steven Case, a teacher at Mar Vista High School in Imperial Beach. He was in his classroom Wednesday preparing for the start of school Monday.
Case said he had been counting on his seniors having laptops, as his seniors did last year, only to find out Tuesday via e-mail that laptops would not be provided.
“It was a visual grunt and roar because I was the only one in my classroom, so I had to get it out somehow. I was like ‘What the heck, we’re going backwards.’”
Case notified his seniors via e-mail and included a survey of sorts. It was posted Tuesday night and as of Monday morning 13 out of 30 students had responded. Three said it stinks because they were expecting to use the school issued computer; three said it stinks because they will have to use the computer at home; five said it stinks because they will have to use their phone for school work; and two said they didn’t care because they have a personal computer they can use from home.
To this point, the teachers union said “This will have an inequitable effect on students from low socio-economic status. They will be at a disadvantage when doing college searches, filling out applications, and writing essays, as some do not have access to computers or phones.”
Manny Rubio, a spokesperson for the district, said seniors will have devices to use in the interim. The district is sending a pool of computers to various schools to augment the computers on wheels already shared at sites, as well computer labs.
“As computers get fixed and repaired we will be giving them to seniors to check out so over the next several months we will be working on that so they will have devices to take home.”
So what happened this year? Rubio said the district did allocate funding in the budget to pay for the repairs, but there was a “significant amount” of damaged computers this year, more than in years past. He could not explain why, but said the district would be analyzing the best way to implement the program moving forward, including whether taking laptops home is the best option.
Check back for updates on this developing story.