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Posted on Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 2:56 p.m.

Ann Arbor schools to replace thousands of lab computers with technology bond money

By Danielle Arndt


A Community High School journalism student works on an old eMac in one of the school's computer labs in this 2012 file photo. Upgrading the district's computer labs is next on school officials' lists for technology bond improvement projects.

Melanie Maxwell |

Ann Arbor Public Schools has more technology purchases in the pipeline to put to use its $45.8 million tech bond.

The Board of Education approved Wednesday allocating $27,405 of the district's technology bond money to purchase 35 classroom sound-field amplification systems.

The sound amplifiers are worn around the teacher's neck and help boost his or her voice so all students can receive instruction better.

Up next in tech bond purchases will be 2,800 desktop computers and 400 MacBook Air laptop computers, which will replace the older laptops in the computer carts at the elementary schools.

The desktops will replace the 1,900 iMac computers currently used in the district's computer labs. These will be used for Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) testing in the fall. The remaining 900 computers will be stored for future tech bond rollouts, such as to replace teachers' iMacs when the time comes, said Executive Director of Physical Properties Randy Trent.

Voters in the Ann Arbor Public Schools district approved the $45.8-million bond for technology improvements in May 2012. The bond began levying an additional .45 mills (or 45 cents per $1,000 of taxable value) from taxpayers in July.

The tech bond passed with 70.35 percent approval from residents.

The desktop and laptop purchases for the district's stationary and mobile computer labs came before the school board Wednesday for a first briefing. The board is expected to approve the proposals at its Feb. 27 meeting.

The district received a 25 percent discount from Apple off the listed price for the MacBook Air laptops. They will cost AAPS $1,069 per unit, totaling $427,600.

The iMac desktops will cost $1,039 per unit or a total cost of $2.9 million.

All of the new computers will use Apple's new operating system, Mountain Lion. This will require the district to replace some of its software in the future, which cannot be purchased using bond money per state law.

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 4:07 p.m.

"The desktop and laptop purchases for the district's stationary and mobile computer labs came before the school board Wednesday for a first briefing. The board is expected to approve the proposals at its Feb. 27 meeting." Let's see. The bond passed last year, in the spring, I think. Now it's nearly a year later, and the proposal is just getting approved?

Danielle Arndt

Mon, Feb 18, 2013 : 2:49 p.m.

JRW, the link at the top directs to a previous story about the technology bond ( In September, the district approved the purchase of new wireless infrastructure and server equipment that increased the district's internal and external bandwidth. That project was the first major upgrade the district took on.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 4:01 p.m.

"All of the new computers will use Apple's new operating system, Mountain Lion. This will require the district to replace some of its software in the future, which cannot be purchased using bond money per state law." So, where will the money for the future software replacements come from? This should be accounted for now, not left for another one of these millages in the future, especially given how this last one was pushed through on a ballot vote held at a time of year when no one votes except AAPS employees.

Danielle Arndt

Mon, Feb 18, 2013 : 2:44 p.m.

JRW, by law, technology bond money only can be used for equipment or infrastructure purchases and upgrades, and software is not considered equipment or infrastructure. The money for the software will have to come from the general fund. So this line item will be addressed/considered when the district finalizes its budget for 2013-14.

Chester Drawers

Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 4:42 p.m.

Back in the late 1980's most of the elementary buildings had computer labs with about 6 machines. One year the district had a "computer infusion" and outfitted each elementary with about 25 computers. They hired certified teachers to man the labs, and every student would spend at least one class period per week learning computer skills. Sometime in mid-October the district discovered that they didn't have the funds for the computer teachers; I can't remember if they were laid off or reassigned, but the labs would have remained dark if it wasn't for a dedicated cadre of parent volunteers who kept the labs running. Kind of like buying a Mercedes and then discovering you can't afford the insurance!


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 1:07 p.m.

Great purchase of expensive technology that will become obsolete in 5 years. When it's other people's money, there's no need to think outside the Macbox. Not sure if anybody will hear this comment; I'm not using a voice amplifier.

Basic Bob

Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 10:43 p.m.

"Technology" is not moving as quick as you'd think. My six year old desktop PC and seven year old laptop still have some usable life in them. You don't need a sophisticated gaming computer to check e-mail or run remote web apps. I'm not afraid to install a new operating system and software on an old box, and neither are most IT professionals. Of course in the Apple world that is sacrilege.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 8:11 p.m.

I agree with you about the tech setup mostly. However, my main point was about the sound amplification. Also, not sure that the schools have the infrastructure to run web software. I never questioned your tech expertise by the way. Only that you assumed that they did not think before deciding on tech and didn't need voice amplification.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 6:19 p.m.

Erocypsi- Having earned a CS degree from the fine local institution in town here, you'd be surprised how much I know about "technology." The smart thing to do would have been to set up cheap internet-enabled basic terminals running web software. The dumb thing to do with other people's money was to pay a 100% premium for a piece of industrial design that itself will be obsolete in 5 years time. But what do I care. I'm an Apple shareholder and I've been in the money for years now. It's saps like the AAPS who fuel the 50%+ margins I enjoy and the cash hoard the company is sitting on.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 2:47 p.m.

I think that you should visit a modern classroom before you throw out blanket statements. It is not the school district's fault that technology moves at a very rapid pace.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 11:52 a.m.

As a teacher the time has come for replacing all the computers in these buildings. They are old and slow, and with the amount of on-line testing being done, these need to work better and more efficiently. What I would like to see is these old computers put up for sale in Ann Arbor so that taxpayers could purchase them at a discounted price. If you think about it, the taxpayers have already paid for them, so sell them cheap and use the money to help purchase the necessary software for the new computers. I would purchase one of the old computers/laptops to be used by my younger kids. Just a thought!


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 11:47 a.m.

Though the computer replacement is absolutely necessary, the replacement of fully-functioning sound systems in every classroom is not. I'd rather see those replaced as they stop functioning rather than getting rid of equipment that is working fine as is. Seems wasteful.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 11:54 a.m.

agree totally with you on this.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 1:47 a.m.

So... buy an integrated all-in-one that will be obsolete in a few years or buy monitors that you can hook up to any box so that when you replace the computers next time you can at least keep the monitors? They sure will look great, though.


Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 10:45 p.m.

Danielle, can you say if the desktops being purchased also will be Mac? Are the desktops more or less expensive than the MacBook Air laptops?

Danielle Arndt

Mon, Feb 18, 2013 : 2:38 p.m.

Dwight, yes, the desktops are Macs as well. They cost $30 less per unit than the Air laptops.


Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 10:15 p.m.

Why are they getting all Macs? When the kids get home, or out in the real world, there's a better than 90% chance they'll be using PCs. PCs are a lot cheaper, too.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 4:43 p.m.

A few years ago I visited all the engineering departments at UM for a work project. I saw Macs in every department. Your impression of market share and patterns of use is out of date. I work in a science research unit at UM and most of the labs use Macs there too. Macs are more expensive, but they last longer, and require less maintenance and software management, so in the long run are probably cheaper for the district to run.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 4:05 p.m.

Macs only account for about a 10% market share out there in the real world. Students will most likely be using PCs in the workplace when they graduate.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 3:03 p.m.

Engineers and scientists often use Macs now. It spends on the field, though. CAD is mostly Windows, but software and web development are often Mac because open source languages and tools are usually designed for unix systems. If you look at a video of NASA engineers, you'll see Mac laptops everywhere.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 2:44 p.m.

Sorry should have read "can't adapt to technology as fast". Doh!


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 2:43 p.m.

I'm not sure that there is such a big gap between PC and Mac for a 16 year old. Most of the teenagers I know can fluently use tablet OS, Windows, and Mac OS. I think that the Mac Vs. PC argument is more for us adults who can adapt as quickly to new technology.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 1:44 p.m.

Yeah, but what will they use after college? If they are engineers or scientists they will probably use PCs. If they are costume designers maybe they'll use Macs.


Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 11:59 p.m.

Those who go to college will undoubtedly be using macs.


Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 11:18 p.m.

In my 15 years in the workforce, all I've ever used is Macs. This is across multiple companies. If these students end up working in any kind of artistic/creative endeavor, you'd better believe they will be using Macs.


Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 10:40 p.m.

That's a dubious claim at best. PCs are going the way of the dinosaurs. Everyone is using a laptop, or something even smaller and lighter than that. And, once you go Mac, you don't go back.


Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 9:59 p.m.

We are paying for consumables with a life of three years (at best) with 20 or 30 year bonds. WCC, when faced with this issue years ago, followed the advice of Trustee Richard Bailey and included technology purchases in the WCC budget as an annual line item. They "pay as they go" as should AAPS. Oh, haven't they heard about tablets? And why are laptops still on carts and not in the hands of all the children all the time? I opposed this bond for these same reasons when it was put on the ballot. This is just stupid financial behavior which we will live with for umpteen more years. They only semi-intelligent thing the schools did was NOT spend all the money right away but parse it out in 3 tranches, this being the second.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 1:05 p.m.

Technology purchases are done this way because of Michigan school funding rules. Local districts can sell bonds (and raise millages to pay for them) for capital costs (buildings and equipment) but not for operating costs. WCC does not face the same restrictions.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 3:03 a.m.

Kludwig - Right now we tax payers are paying for 3 prior generations of technology that have been retired. This will make 4 generations retired that we are paying on bonds for. Welcome to how AAPS does business.

Silly Sally

Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 2:56 a.m.

"kludwig" is knowledgeable, and makes a good point. One person to comment fails to know which version of "your" or "you're" to use. On our school board? Don't be so silly!


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 12:42 a.m.

Sounds like you are knowledgeable about this subject. It would be great if you could get involved by serving on a school board or volunteering with their IT department.


Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 11:01 p.m.

I think 3 years is about the right number for a Mac or a PC.

Elijah Shalis

Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 10:09 p.m.

Apple computers last a last a lot more than three years. Perhaps your a PC user.

Christopher Dempsey

Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 9:58 p.m.

"Ann Arbor schools to replace thousands of lab computers with technology bond money" -- I'm confused by the headline? Are you saying that there will now be a pile of money where the computers once were?

Dhurandar Bhatavdekar

Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 12:39 a.m.

YES! That is exactly what the article is saying. Isn't that nice? Free money for the kids will be placed on their computer tables (until supplies last). Get in line!


Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 9:37 p.m.

I'm curious to know what they'll do with the desktop and laptop computers that are being replaced. They may be older, but they still work. Can they sell them? I don't have a laptop and would be interested in a cheap, used one.... and I'm sure I'm not the only person who would be a potential buyer.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 11:46 a.m.

Last time they were traded in back to Apple for a discount on the new purchases.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 10:58 a.m.

Here's the thing: those eMacs are junk. Old and slow. Can't be upgraded to newer Mac OS, so you can't run new software or even get a decent browser. The best we can hope for is that they are recycled rather than take up space in a landfill.

Elijah Shalis

Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 9:59 p.m.

They usually sell them. I bought my macbook from a school district down south that was selling its 2009 mid model. It still has applecare even. I can't believe they are still using emacs from 2005 or earlier though.


Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 9:33 p.m.



Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 8:40 p.m.

Over $27K for sound amplification systems? What did teachers do before this technology existed? They talked louder. Bonus: it was free!


Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 9:17 p.m.

don't forget that they use with teaching tools too. Much of today's instruction involves technology. No more reel-to-reel movies or filmstrips, it's now interactive online tools, youtube videos, or animation demos. This is always why students are learning Calculus in high school now (not just the advanced kids) and why you can get college classes taught in your high school. you have one of the best school districts in terms of opportunities in the state (if not the midwest) and this is why.


Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 9:14 p.m.

Sound field systems aren't just worn around the teacher's neck. The classroom is also wired with speakers to ensure that the sound from the teacher's voice is audible evenly throughout the room. I taught in such a classroom once when a student who was deaf was enrolled. The technology helped her use her hearing implant more effectively and gave her the chance to exercise her right to be educated in a standard classroom with her peers, instead of being isolated in a special class or room. The system is also helpful for students with certain other disabilities, and doesn't hurt anyone. It makes it much easier for students to take notes and reduces the amount of time reteaching material after class.


Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 9:01 p.m.

With more than 30 kids in many classrooms, I can't say I blame the teachers for wanting amplification. Alternatively, duct tape on some of the noisier students would be less costly.


Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 8:56 p.m.

. . . and the pupils (at the behest of their parents) had sufficient respect for the education process, and the teachers, to be quiet enough such that no amplification mechanism was even considered.


Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 8:36 p.m.

I'm trying to figure out why they would "store" 900 computers for future use. Don't computers depreciate quickly? How long do they expect them to be stored?


Mon, Feb 18, 2013 : 8:10 p.m.

Equivalent PC would cost about $500 w/ discount. So a 50% savings. Come on.

Are you serious?

Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 2:45 p.m.

You may be thinking of PC's not Apple computers. I'm typing this on an Apple laptop that is 4 years old for which I paid about $1,000. If I wanted to I could sell it for about $600. So it costs me about $100 / year to own and use. In addition I have never had a virus and don't use any virus protection software.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 11:45 a.m.

Especially since I understand teachers will not be receiving them until next school year.


Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 2:19 a.m.

Apple offers schools substantial discounts on their purchases. It may be that the district purchased the units, including those being "stored" to ensure that they would have one common platform configuration. Apple, like other computer manufacturers, frequently updates their product line and may eliminate a specific computer with a newer model. Fewer differences in models makes support easier for the IT department.


Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 10:11 p.m.

I was wondering the very same thing. Technology is ever-changing at a fast pace. Who's to say that by the time they get around to replacing them that they won't want to upgrade again? I'd rather see the district buy and replace as we go. I'm also not happy that the district seems stuck on using Apple products. I'm sure they could get a discount on PCs too.


Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 9:15 p.m.

It actually is not. The rollout will happen as fast as IT people can implement the changes and upgrade the software. Managing an academic environment is not like a big corporation, you can't be draconian as it limits what the teachers can do. The 25% discount is partially due to the quantity purchased no doubt, so they saved your taxpayer dollars (or got more hardware for it at least). It's not dumb, it's a wise use of your money , it will just be phase 2 to roll out the teacher hardware probably by next Fall (otherwise may be too disruptive - speculation). You should sit down with an academic IT person and have them explain the unique landscape that they have to work in. Universities are even more challenging.


Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 8:59 p.m.

I wonder if they need to spend the bond money this year? It does seem like a silly idea.


Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 8:53 p.m.

You are 100% correct. It is incredibly stupid to purchase large quantities of technology equipment just to put on a warehouse shelf, "for future use". Unfortunately AAPS has a history of doing exactly this. They seem to get so excited to spend the bond money they don't think about how fast the technology improves and prices go down. Absolutely stupid.

Always Amazed

Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 8:27 p.m.

...I know I'm picky, but how about "using" the money. The headline reads that computers are being replaced with money, making it oh-so-hard to email.

An Arborigine

Sat, Feb 16, 2013 : 8:34 p.m.

Yes, but the kids will be trained in finance!


Fri, Feb 15, 2013 : 8:21 p.m.

Finally! When I went in to vote in the last election and noticed the 8-year-old eMacs in the library, I was wondering what was taking so long in putting this bond money to use!