Laptop funding cleared



By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff

PITTSFIELD -- A portion of the $750,000 that the state Legislature recently approved for the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative will go toward paying for the remaining rollouts of laptop computers, BWLI Steering Committee Co-chairman Michael Supranowicz said yesterday.  

Two of the Legislature's many overrides of Gov. Mitt Romney's vetoes last month provided a cash infusion of $500,000 for the $5.3 million BWLI. An additional $250,000 for capacity building at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams was also approved to support the program in both Pittsfield and North Adams .  


Steering Committee Co-chairman James Stakenas, MCLA's vice president of administration and finance, said the funding will allow the college to become "the hub" of professional development training for both teachers and staff that are involved with the BWLI.  


The three-year Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative, which began in January, is being used as a pilot program by the state. The initiative's goal is to help improve student achievement and transform the way education is delivered in the three participating school districts — the Pittsfield and North Adams public schools, and the Catholic Schools of Pittsfield .  


"The $500,000 will help towards the next deployment of laptops in the schools," Supranowicz said.  


In January, 711 seventh graders at Herberg and Reid middle schools and St. Mark School in Pittsfield — and Conte Middle School in North Adams — received Apple iBook G4 laptop computers to use as an educational tool.  


In June, Steering Committee members said that the second rollout of laptops to seventh graders, scheduled to take place in September, might have to be delayed until January.  


State Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, the House chairman of the joint committee on economic development and emerging technologies, said at the time that the $500,000 allocation would help meet that September deadline. Bosley could not be reached for comment yesterday.  


Last year's seventh-graders will receive the laptops they used between January and June when they return to school in September. Those laptops will be distributed to incoming sixth-graders during the third rollout in September 2007.  


More than 2,300 laptops will be distributed when the program is fully operational. As of January, the cost of each iBook, including software, an asset management program, and warranty and maintenance packages, was $1,100.  


Competition is fierce  


Supranowicz said the $500,000 will also help the Steering Committee and the initiative's several sponsors in their fundraising efforts.  


 "To raise $2 million in the private sector is tough when there's an awful lot of other people trying to raise money as well," he said. "This will help bring the program to fruition."  

 The Berkshire Eagle and North Adams Transcript are two of the BWLI's sponsors. Mark French, The Eagle's advertising director, is a steering committee member.  


The state has matched the dollars for the program that have already been raised by the private sector, but Supranowicz said this $500,000 state allocation does not require that formula.  


Considering amendment  


State legislators are still considering an amendment that would change the BWLI's funding formula. The state currently contributes $2 for every dollar raised by both the private sector and the participating school districts. However, the funding contributed by the schools is considered an "in-kind" contribution, meaning that it is based on the amount of time that school districts pay teachers to utilize the new technology, instead of actual funds.  


 "They're still trying to push that through," Supranowicz said.  


 He said if the amendment is approved, it would change the funding formula retroactive to July 2004, when the state legislature overrode Gov. Romney's veto to provide $2 million in funding for the project.