Despite criticism, Fort Bend ISD’s iAchieve program moving forward

By Betsy Dolan

The first phase of Fort Bend ISD’s iAchieve program, also known as the iPad program, is set to roll out in September, despite a push by two of the school board’s newest members to scrap the program altogether. Dave Rosenthal and Jenny Bailey, who beat incumbents Cynthia Lenton-Gary and Marilyn Glover in May and ran their campaigns largely on opposition to the iAchieve program, cast dissenting votes on an issue related to funding of the program at the June 11 meeting.

That issue, whether to use $10 million dollars in remaining funds and interest from the 2003 bond referendum to purchase technology equipment including iPads and iCartes was the first of two iAchieve agenda items discussed. Bailey and Rosenthal argued that the almost $300 million bond referendum stipulated that the bulk of the money was to be used for long term projects like land purchases, new construction and school repairs. Technology spending was earmarked for $19.5 million. They took issue with the BOT decision in February 2012 to use remaining bond money and interest to fund the iAchieve program when district projections indicate the need for investment in infrastructure.

“We’ve heard the projections calling for explosive growth, especially in Sienna and Riverstone,” Rosenthal said. “At some point there are going to have to be schools built and when people remember that we used bond money for iPads they’re not going to approve a new bond measure.”

Bailey argued that with economic uncertainty and the unlikelihood of a new bond measure being approved by voters, the remaining bond funds should be kept in reserve, not spent on “items with a short life span like iPads.”

BOT member, Bruce Albright, expressed his concerns that abandoning the iAchieve program now would not be fiscally responsible. The district has already purchased 6,500 iPads, 73 teachers and writers are working on curriculum and extensive preparations are underway to implement iAchieve’s first phase, also called Wave 1, at 14 schools in September. In addition, some federal funds received by the district may have to be refunded should the program be dismantled, according to the administration.

The motion to cease funding for the project failed as five trustees voted against the motion. Only Rosenthal and Bailey voted in favor. The two trustees withdrew another motion to temporarily suspend the iAchieve initiative after the board agreed to present a report on the implementation of Wave 1, before proceeding with Wave 2.

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