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May 6, 2005
From the Superintendent:

For Immediate Release May 5, 2005

School District Statement Regarding Recent MDJ Articles

Recent articles and editorials in the Marietta Daily Journal have misrepresented the facts by suggesting that the Cobb County School District and Superintendent Joseph Redden could have secured a better deal for Cobb's laptop computer initiative simply because another school district in another state may have received a lower price. The newspaper reported that Henrico County, Va., schools signed a lower-cost contract with Dell Computer to continue that school district's four-year-old laptop initiative.

On May 4, 2005, reporter Jon Gillooly wrote:

Henrico is paying $270 per computer less with its new contract with Dell than Cobb is with Apple. With the same deal, Redden could have saved approximately $4,266,000 for the $25 million first phase of the contact by negotiating the same contract with Dell that Henrico did, and approximately $17 million for the full contract with the Dell deal.

And on May 5, 2005, an unsigned editorial stated:

A logical step would have been for the board to direct [Redden] to dial Dell and see if it would extend the same lower price-per-laptop contract to Cobb that it had just offered Henrico.

The newspaper is wrong to suggest that Cobb County could have secured the same deal that Dell agreed to with Henrico. As the newspaper is fully aware, Dell is one of four vendors that did bid on Cobb's plan to provide laptops to teachers, upgrade middle school labs, and establish four high school pilot sites where the district will test the concept of issuing laptops to students. Dell's proposal for the four-year lease came in $3.6 million higher than Apple's.

Cobb negotiated with Apple, Dell, IBM and Hewlett-Packard over a period of five months to secure the best deal for its laptop program. Vendors were asked to submit proposals for a comprehensive package that would provide laptops, software, ongoing technical support and training, backup batteries, and an evaluation of the program, among other specifications. Apple offered Cobb a lease price of $350 per computer per year, or a total of $1,400 for the four-year lease. Dell's proposal was $404 per computer per year, and more than $1,600 for the four-year lease. In Henrico, the situation was reversed, with Dell providing the lower bid for that district's specific requirements.

The newspaper implies that the circumstances in Henrico and Cobb were the same and that the vendors were bidding on identical projects. But clearly, the circumstances and needs in each school district are very different. Henrico's laptop program, for instance, has been place for four years and the district has a well-established technical infrastructure already in place. That already established infrastructure will facilitate the transition to the next phase of Henrico's program. In addition, all of Henrico's teachers and many of its students are already trained in the use of the laptops. This training will also facilitate Dell's rollout in Henrico.

In Cobb County, the introduction of laptops to teachers and students is a brand new concept. Technical infrastructure, training and support will have to be built from day one of the program.

To reach its conclusion that Cobb could have attained the same price from Dell, the newspaper assumes:

It is likely that the different circumstances in each system played a major role in what the vendors were prepared to bid on each project. Cobb County accepted the lowest bid for its laptop initiative following months of rigorous negotiation, as did Henrico. Both school districts did very thorough jobs of negotiating contracts that will provide the best use of taxpayer dollars for their respective programs. For the newspaper to imply that all factors were equal, and that Cobb could have secured the same deal with Dell as Henrico, is disingenuous at best. Dell had an opportunity to win the contract for Cobb's program, but its bid was $3.6 million too high.

Henrico's deal presents many encouraging signs that the newspaper has chosen to ignore. For one, it shows that there is flexibility for school districts to switch computer vendors, because laptop programs are about using technology to teach students, not about which computer is used. Henrico's deal is also a positive sign that, should Cobb choose to continue its laptop program in the future as Henrico has, it can expect lower pricing once its support infrastructure and training are developed.

But the most important news from Henrico is that the school board and community have overwhelmingly supported continuing their laptop initiative, and that the program is beginning to show real benefits for students in the classroom. Cobb County is looking forward to similar results from its Power To Learn program in the near future.

Posted by Dr. Tyson

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