April 28, 2013

Maine picks laptops – but not Apples

An exclusive contract comes to an end as the governor and state education officials go with Hewlett-Packard.

By Beth Quimby bquimby@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA – The Maine Department of Education has chosen Hewlett-Packard as its preferred contractor to purchase tens of thousands of laptops for middle school students, even though the company was not the cheapest option or the top choice in terms of quality by a multistate committee appointed to study the matter.

The decision, announced Saturday by the office of Gov. Paul LePage and the Department of Education, also ends the state's long-standing exclusive contract with Apple, which has provided the state with equipment since Maine's school laptop program began in 2002.

The naming of a preferred contractor was weeks overdue, and anxiously awaited by school district officials, who said the delay was interfering with their budgeting process for the 2013-14 academic year. A decision was initially expected by late February or March. The governor's office had to approve the contract before it could be awarded.

At $254 per device, the HP ProBook 4440, running Windows 8 software, will be made available to schools this fall through the Maine Learning Technology Initiative. Previously, Maine contracted with Apple, which uses a different operating platform, and students currently use MacBook laptops.

Maine's school districts still will have the option of going with one of the other four computer devices that have been approved for the program. If they do so, the state will provide up to $254 -- the cost of a HP ProBook -- toward the purchase price of the alternate device.

The state will pay an additional cost of about $31 for installation, maintenance and service, bringing the total cost to about $285 per "seat," or user, in the network. The current total price is $271. The state also pays for computing devices for middle school teachers.

In addition, the state picks up the cost for high school teacher laptops and network charges. School districts may also buy laptops for high school students through the program, in which about half of the districts currently participate.

"This is the lowest-priced proposal," LePage said of the HP ProBook in announcing the decision on Saturday.

But the Hewlett-Packard proposal was not the cheapest among five semifinalists recommended by a committee appointed to rank the proposals. Nor was it the top choice.

Apple's 32-gigabyte iPad tablet, at $217 per device, was ranked both the cheapest and the highest-quality option recommended by the committee, whose members are from Maine, Hawaii and Vermont. The iPad scored the highest with 93 out of 100 points, while the HP ProBook earned 79 points, ranking fourth out of five.

The other choices were the Apple MacBook Air, the HP ElitePad Tablet and the 2go Convertible Classmate NL4 by CTL.

LePage's spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said the governor meant that the ProBook was the cheapest laptop among the choices. However, the state was considering proposals not just for laptops but for other computer devices as well, including tablets, in deciding on the contract.

This is the first year that all three states, hoping to obtain lower prices, banded together to negotiate a contract. Collectively, the contracts may be worth more than $200 million.

Maine was the first state to provide laptops to all of its seventh- and eighth-graders. Today, the program costs about $14 million a year. Districts that provide laptops in other grades pay for the computers themselves.

In making the announcement Saturday, LePage said it is important for students to use technology that they will see and use in the workplace. He said the Hewlett-Packard operating system is the one most commonly used in Maine businesses.

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