Newark Unified school board approves purchase of nearly 2,000 Chromebooks

A Lenovo 100e Chromebook. (Credit: Lenovo)

Newark Unified School District is buying new laptops to replace ones that have reached the end of their life, but the number being purchased is less than the amount recommended by staff last month.

On Thursday, the Newark Unified board of education unanimously decided to buy 1,845 new Lenovo 100e Chromebooks and 17 charging carts, along with licenses and services, from education technology company Trafera for a total cost of about $615,600. Board Member Phuong Nguyen made the motion to make a larger purchase of 2,579 Chromebooks and 23 carts for a cost of about $846,500, but it failed to garner support from the other three board members. Student Board Member Diego Torres supported the larger purchase.

“We have the funds to be able to do that right now,” Nguyen said.

The district issued Chromebooks to students at the start of the pandemic when schools shut down in-person learning and shifted to remote learning to curb the spread of the coronavirus. On average, most districts lost 30% of their laptops because of “wear and tear, lost devices, and so on,” said Nicole Pierce-Davis, assistant superintendent of educational services. Newark Unified doesn’t have a full picture of how many it lost because the district’s staff was in the middle of inventorying its Chromebooks when the pandemic hit.

However, close to half, 42.7%, of the current supply of 6,982 Chromebooks are nearing or at the end of their life, she said, leaving the district with fewer Chromebooks (4,004) than students (4,951). The district also expects about 1,017 devices will need to be replaced in 2024 and 3,779 will need replacement in 2026.

“The goal here is to not have to replace all of those computers in ’26,” Pierce-Davis said. “We want to ramp up to that.”

The laptops are primarily used in the classroom and are only checked out to students under special circumstances, such as independent study. However, Pierce-Davis said the school board was planning to move toward a model of checking out laptops to students at Newark Memorial High School before the pandemic.

“That is something that many schools have chosen to do, many districts have chosen to do,” Pierce-Davis said. “I think we need to sit down and think about what kind of vision we want moving forward for Newark Memorial and how that fits within the budget.”

The district weighed the option of buying enough replacements so that there was a Chromebook for each student in the district, which was about 1,144 for about $366,000. The option to buy 1,845 accounted for the fact that students in middle and high school don’t stay in the same classroom over the course of the day.

“In elementary sites, our students are in one classroom; they’re self-contained classrooms,” Pierce-Davis said. “At our secondary sites, students are moving classroom to classroom each period. It really becomes not so much a one-to-one issue, but you do need to start moving more toward classroom carts, where students can come in and use those Chromebooks and put them back.”

The option of buying 2,579 would have moved the district toward having full classroom sets at the district’s middle and high schools, which Nguyen supported. It initially appeared on the board’s Feb. 2 consent agenda, which typically include routine matters, but it was pulled for discussion and voted down by board members Nancy Thomas, Aiden Hill, and Katherine Jones, who said they wanted to have a process in place to track the laptops before approving the purchase.

They supported the option of buying 1,845 at Thursday’s meeting, with Hill suggesting the district move toward formally checking out laptops to students who don’t have their own and fining students who don’t return them at the end of the year.

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