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Two Republican Legislators In Maine Seek To Get Out Of Apple Contract

Two Republican Legislators In Maine Seek To Get Out Of Apple Contract

by , 8:00 AM EDT, July 11th, 2002

The battle for the state of Maine's iBook program for 7th and 8th grade students, as well as their teachers, is far from over. First reported in December of 2001, the governor of Maine, Angus King, has been championing a laptops-for-students program throughout his state's public education system. The winning vendor for the statewide program was Apple, with the company's iBook as the model of choice. The contract is worth some US$37 million in laptops and services from Apple over several years.

A long-running effort by Governor King, the program was signed into law in March of 2002. While many watchers in the Mac community, including TMO, heralded this as a great victory for Apple in the education market, as well as a boon to students and teachers alike, the program came under fire once Maine discovered a budget shortfall for the year. At that time, it seemed that a scale-back of the fund to pay for the iBooks had bypassed the danger to the contract, but even after a visit to Maine's schools by Steve "Reality Distortion Field" Jobs, there appears to be a renewed attack on the program.

Two Republican legislators have sent a letter to Maine's Attorney General if it was possible to break the contract with Apple. This despite the fact that some schools, and many teachers, have already begun to receive their iBooks. From a report from the Press-Herald, a Maine newspaper:

Two state lawmakers have asked Attorney General Steven Rowe if the state could break its laptops-for-students contract with Apple Computer without incurring any financial liability. Reps. Philip Cressey Jr. of Baldwin and Brian Duprey of Hampden, both Republicans, posed that question Tuesday in a letter suggesting that the Legislature might want to get out of the Apple contract because of the state's budget shortfall.

"Given the severity of the shortfall and the need to make informed policy choices, we ask for an opinion on the state's liability vis-a-vis this contract," the lawmakers wrote. "Your opinion would provide some insight into the possible outcomes should the Legislature decide that, given our fiscal crisis, the laptop funds could be better spent elsewhere."

Cressey and Duprey do not hold leadership positions in the Legislature. In addition, neither sits on the Legislature's Education Committee or on its budget-writing Appropriations Committee, so it remains unclear how many legislators share their views on the contract.

"I'd rather have the cash than the laptops," said Duprey, whose school district has been hit with an $85,000 cut in funding because of the state deficit. "I just want to see if (breaking the contract) is an option for us."

The Apple contract includes an escape clause that says the state "is not obligated to make payment under this agreement" if the money is not available, but that does not necessarily mean the state would be off the hook if it broke the contract.

That's because the agreement also says the state's failure to pay up "shall be deemed to be a default under this agreement." Whether that would trigger hefty penalties or fines for breach of contract is what Cressey and Duprey want to find out from Rowe. A spokesman for the attorney general said Tuesday that Rowe probably will respond to the lawmakers' letter "within a couple of weeks."

There is additional information in the full article, and we recommend it as an interesting read.

The Mac Observer Spin:

Politicians scrambling for their own particular bits of pork is never a pretty sight, but it seems that every politico in Maine has his or her eyes on this laptop fund. It's a tad embarrassing, if you ask us, which you didn't, and we hope that this can be resolved reasonably. From our vantage point, laptops for teachers and students is a great idea, and the evidence shows that this program has already been a raging success, especially in rural areas in Maine.

These two representatives don't appear to have much power over this deal, but if Maine's Attorney General thinks that the state can legally get out of the contract without facing penalties, it is likely that political pressure to kill the deal will increase. It wouldn't surprise us if Apple made some further concessions on this contract in order to keep it, though we have no evidence that such an eventuality is even being discussed in Cupertino. The flip side to all this is that if the Attorney General of Maine decides that the contract can not be broken, it is likely to end at least some of the efforts to derail it.

For Apple's ongoing battle with Dell over education market share, we hope that Apple can keep the deal together. If Maine can successfully carry out this program, Apple will be in a better position to win over other large school districts around the US.

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