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Comsewogue Considering E-Textbooks

School officials are bouncing around numbers trying to see if old textbooks - some with graphic images on them from years ago - could be a thing of the past.

While a recent discussion surrounding vulgar images in an old school textbook spawned anger and frustration from some parents, change may be coming as school officials explore one idea that could keep outdated texts - and graphic images that stay on the pages for ages - out of the classroom forever.

According to School Board Vice President Lance Brown and Assistant Superintendent of Finances Susan Casali, the district is considering the idea of leasing electronic tablets to replace hard texts. Officials have noted that numbers are only estimates at this point, and more exploration and discussion will be needed to come to a final decision.

"The district is always looking for ways to not only save money, but to also move the district forward with regard to technology and education," said Brown via email.

"By leasing tablets, we can enter into maintenance contracts and other associated warranty programs that would protect a students tablet from damage, accidental breakage and normal wear and tear," he said. "The tablets would also be beneficial in keeping the 'virtual' text book up to date with software upgrades as needed."

He added that at first glance, estimates show that buying or leasing a tablet would run in the $200 - $300 range, while the approximate cost for four years of high school supplies and text books runs from $1,800 to $2,200.

Health benefits could be another plus too, Brown said: "The weight of a tablet is only a pound or two as opposed to the back-breaking weight we see our students suffer at the hands of carrying many text books in their back packs to and from home and the classroom."

Few districts in Suffolk County provide students with electronic equipment such as a laptop or tablet on a 1:1 ratio. Port Jefferson School District attempted a pilot program for its sixth grade students, though phased the program out.

Westhampton Beach School District adopted the practice in the mid 2000s and has yet to look back. A pilot program started for sixth grade students in 2004-2005, gradually making its way up through high school two years later.

"Our model takes into consideration how students prefer to learn," said Bill Fisher, assistant superintendent for personnel and instruction. Fisher previously served as the district's technology director, and prior to that, a classroom teacher.

"This allows students to own their learning a little bit more, as opposed to a more traditional setting where the teacher provides student information, and the student tries to absorb it."

Fisher said it was hard to quantify how much the program has saved the district, if at all. Not all textbooks are available in electronic form yet - though he estimated textbook usage has been reduced about 60 to 70 percent. Meanwhile, spaces that previously served as computer labs have been converted for other uses, allowing the district to utilize its existing space instead of building out or using one space for several purposes. He said leasing the tablets costs the district approximately $700,000 annually.

"What we've seen on our return on investment is moving toward a 21st-century learning model," he said. "Fortunately we have support from the Board of Education and the community, that sees the value in how we instruct our students, even if there is a marginal cost on the front end."

Comsewogue, however, is coming off a year in which voters rejected a budget that pierced New York State's 2 percent tax levy cap. Support for a budget that would have raised the levy 4.5 percent .

Brown said that the issue is not currently up for discussion on any upcoming agendas.

"But it certainly will be a discussion topic sometime within this school year," he said.

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