Apple Laptop Program Costs School Board Members Their Jobs
November 6th, 2003

In September, we covered a one-on-one laptop deal in Stillwater, MN. That deal would put iBooks in the hands of every junior high school student and teacher in the town. In October, the deal was restructured to cover but one of the two local junior high schools, and was sealed. On Tuesday of this week, support for the laptop deal cost the three school board members who supported the plan their jobs. The Pioneer Press is reporting that a write-in campaign conducted by two parental foes of the deal succeeded, and that all three incumbent supporting members were voted out. From the Pioneer Press:

When the Stillwater school district signed on the dotted line in late September to purchase laptops for some junior high students, Nancy Hoffman and Christopher Kunze decided enough was enough.

The decision to spend $1.7 million over five years seemed to come out of the blue, and it fit a pattern they perceived of the school board acting without sufficient public input.

So they accomplished what seemed impossible.

With a month left before Election Day, the two — who knew each other only slightly at the time — started campaigning together as write-in candidates to send the district a message that residents were fed up with the lack of communication.

That message was received — and then some — on Tuesday when Hoffman and Kunze were elected to the school board and the three incumbents who had voted for the laptop plan were defeated.

Mr. Kunze, it would seem, is a former teacher turned computer consultant. According to a bio published on the ad-hoc campaign Web site set up by Ms. Hoffman and Mr. Kunze, Mr. Kunze is a computer consultant for "various Fortune 500 companies throughout the Twin Cities and around the world."

Mr. Kunze's platform was centered around a campaign against the Apple laptop program, including the process through which the program was approved. In his campaign points published in a campaign flyer, Mr. Kunze lays out the following points:

  • There should be equity across the school district. Not all the money should go to a select few students.
  • We should teach our students using the same technology that they will use once they graduate.
  • Most corporations have 3-year leases on their computers
  • the Initiative appears to have been rushed through the board. Many first heard about the laptop initiative in the September 4, 2003 board meeting.
  • Studies have shown the corporate loss rate of laptops to be around 4-5%
  • Technology is expensive
    • Up to 20% of laptops suffer hardware failure in the first 3 years.
    • Total cost of ownership (TCO) for PCs - the cost of keeping a single PC operational - has risen to an industry average of between $4,000 and $11,000 per year. (Gartner analyst M. Margevicius, Notebook Deployments in the Enterprise. October 10, 2002).

What does that say? Apparently it said enough to local residents to get them to cast their vote, but it's really devoid of any relevance. What do corporate leases have to do with a school system? What do corporate loss rates have to do with schools? What do PC support costs in the corporate world have to do with Mac support costs in schools?

These arguments show that Mr. Kunze is either too stuck in his corporate mindset to offer anything of value to his local schools, or that he is too stupid to be able to think his arguments through to their conclusions. At worst, he is knowingly offering up a series of red herring arguments that imply meaning without any relevant justification.

So, let's break them down. Mr. Kunze wants his junior high students to use the same technology they will use when they graduate? That's code for "Wintel." Mr. Kunze is, after all, a consultant for Fortune 500 companies.

Let's suppose, for a moment, that Stillwater had gone with the latest and greatest Wintel laptops --say a 2.8 GHz Centrino laptop with 802.11b wireless, maybe 256 MB of RAM with some version of Windows XP.

Now, 8th graders will be graduating from high school in 2008. If, by some miracle, they land a job right out of high school where they use a computer, does Mr. Kunze think that companies 5 years from now will still be using that same technology? This doesn't even address the fact that today's junior high school students will simply not be manning a desk job with a computer when they get out of high school. It will be years after that, and technology will have changed even more by then.

If Mr. Kunze was serious about training kids on the same technology they would use on graduation, he would be demanding that deep-fryers and grills be installed in all the classrooms.

Let's go further, however; Mr. Kunze wants to saddle his schools with technology where 20% of hardware breaks down within three years, and that costs an average of US$,4,000 - US$11,000 per year to operate? Why, those PCs must be Wintel products, the same technology he wants to saddle his kids with. His figures are, after all, based on a study of the corporate market which is dominated by the Wintel world, but then he's one of the army of consultants that helped place all that worthless hardware in the corporate market in the first place.

There are bigger issues here whether or not Mr. Kunze is a tool who wants to bring the same level of mediocrity that burdens the corporate world to his schools. While he is that kind of tool, the real issue is still the proper role of technology in the school.

In other parts of his campaign Web site, Mr. Kunze talks about teaching kids, about behavior in school, about reading, writing, and arithmetic, and about excellence in education. If you go east a few hundred miles, you'll find that Maine's iBook program has resulted in better attendance, fewer disciplinary problems, and better test scores. Jeepers, that sounds like what Mr. Kunze says he wants. Perhaps if he pulled his nose out of the corporate world long enough to see what was actually happening in the education world, he would know this.

Congratulations, citizens of Stillwater. You voted him into office.

What's interesting is that the iBook initiative is going to happen anyway, largely as school administrators wanted. With a hostile school board, however, we wonder how it's all going to work out.