Osseo Area Schools considers new iPad management strategies

The Osseo Area School Board considered changes to its iPad management program at its Aug. 15 work session.
While the board has not taken official action to approve any such changes, board members indicated that they would approve reducing the cost of iPad protection plans from $35 to $20.
Some board members expressed concern with the iPad program in a broad sense, and said the district needs to find a way to better ensure parents and students bear the cost of repairing or replacing broken, lost or damaged devices.
The district has approximately 14,000 iPads that it distributes to students. Students below the fourth grade level do not take their devices home, and devices are not distributed on a one-to-one basis for these students.
As students in grades 4-12 receive iPads on a one-to-one basis and take them home in regular intervals, the district must grapple with distribution, recollection and maintenance of these devices between school years.
In 2017, 98.75 percent of iPads that were eligible for collection were collected by the district.
Tim Wilson, chief technology officer, said that the program has been in a state of annual improvement as the district learns better ways to deploy, track, repair and replace devices.
While the majority of iPads deployed by the district are returned, less than 4 percent of outstanding bills related to the costs of repair or replacement of devices have been paid by parents, guardians or students.
Since September 2015, a total of $345,386.70 has been billed to families for costs related to repair or replacement of iPads. Of that, $13,601 has been collected, leaving a total of $331,785.70 outstanding.
Repair costs for iPads are highest in the district for sixth- and seventh-graders, while replacement costs are highest at the high school level.
Wilson said it can be difficult to collect fees from students the district considers to be withdrawn. That is, if a student leaves the district without giving prior notice or alerting the district of the location of their new home, it can be difficult to locate those students and their guardians for billing.
When an iPad is not returned to the district or is stolen, it is remotely shut down and locked, and the device emits an audible alert.
Parents are billed for costs of repair or replacement of iPads through FeePay, the system the district uses for financial transactions such as athletic registration, managing a lunch account and payment of fees or fines. Parents are also alerted by phone and email.
Students with missing iPads or unpaid fees have a hold placed on their student account, which prevents them from participating in athletic or other activities such as school dances until fines are paid. These students are also unable to purchase a parking pass.
To this point, the district has not considered the use of a collection agency or more punitive measures to ensure payment, such as alerting police or reporting the lack of payment to a credit bureau.
Previously, for $35, prorated by free or reduced lunch status, anyone issued an iPad could purchase a protection plan from the district, which would reduce the cost of certain instances of damage or loss, and would allow for the repair of one incident of relatively minor damage to be repaired at no additional cost. A protection plan could only be used once. After the first repair, a new plan would need to be purchased.
Board members said the district needs to develop a more effective system for collecting fees related to iPads.
Boardmember Mike Ostaffe said the district needs to hold parents more accountable and should require parents to sign a document that would legally require them to pay fees before a student could receive an iPad.
“[Some] 330,000 of outstanding bills that parents have refused to pay—I mean, that’s ridiculous. That’s unacceptable,” he said.
Ostaffe questioned why the district does not get the police involved when students do not return iPads or when fees are not paid. Ostaffe also generally questioned the prevalent use of iPads in the district, and said it’s not clear that the use of these devices has resulted in higher student achievement.
Boardmember Robert Gerhart also expressed concern as to whether the use of iPads has had an impact on student achievement.
Gerhart said the district needs to explore more effective ways to hold students accountable than simply placing holds on their accounts.
In a related discussion, Gerhart said the district should conduct more rigorous audits of which students are on free-and-reduced lunch to ensure that those who are receiving free-and-reduced lunch are eligible.
The cost of the district’s iPad protection plan was too high considering the cost of the liability parents face, Ostaffe said.
Wilson said that if parental approval were required, it could cause delays where students could potentially be left without a device for significant periods of time, which could impact learning and put additional strains on teachers who would need to modify curriculum to teach students without iPads.
Revenues from protection plans are used to pay for iPad repairs.
There are situations that could prevent a student from obtaining a parent signature or guardian signature, and the district would not want to penalize a student for being in those circumstances, said Kelli Parpart, assistant superintendent.
In some cases, the district does hold students responsible for the documents they have signed, such as the student handbook, Parpart said.
“This is really concerning,” said Boardmember Heather Douglass. She said a policy could be crafted that would require parental responsibility and signature but could exempt students under special circumstances.
While the district did not set any specific goal in increased levels of payment for repairs and replacement, new strategies to increase rates of payment will be explored in the coming year.