Yesterday, Elisa Ferrell offered her views on the removal of textbooks from the classrooms to several different parents who wrote her with their concerns. She also claimed that the digital curriculum costs less than the printed curriculum. One parent requested permission to share this response. You can read the responses online on HCS Book Removal Discussion.
I’ve taken the liberty of copying Ferrell’s response below.
4/7/16 10:41 am
Thank you for your email. Thank you too, for including your school in your email, so we know which one of the five of us should respond to you first.
I hate to make this a long email response, but I always like to make sure everyone knows the history behind our Digital 1:1 transition. If you are an educator in Alabama, then you have up close and personal knowledge of the historical funding issues we have had for text books and libraries. We were at $95 a student for texts, then $75, then $0 for several years. When Dr. Wardysnki [sic] started in HCS our text books were in a state of advanced age and disrepair. There was one school who had been using a set of Biology texts that were over 40 years old. When the state cut funding, our elementary students were the hardest hit, because so many of those texts are consumables…tear out sheets. HCS was in a position that we needed to do a complete system upgrade on our texts because it had been neglected for so long as a result of a lack of funding. The cost to update all the texts was in the $19-$20 million range and we were in debt by about $21 million, so there was just not money to do it. Curriculum was becoming digitized and we found that it we did a system wide curriculum digital 1:1 transition rather than purchasing hard copy text books, that the financial impact would be less, all our students would have equitable access to the same curriculum, HCS would be able to move towards individualized learning for each student, and we would catapult our students into the digital age that they will be living in as adults. As an aside, one of the most frequent comments we receive from our graduated seniors after the first year of digital 1:1 was that they found they were more prepared for the college transition, with its digital texts and digital homework and test submissions, than their peers were. As a result they were more successful.
Change is never easy though, and a few parents struggled with the transition. Some wanted hard copies. Some students with vision issues needed hard copies. We worked with our curriculum provider and received a classroom set of text books that first year, for those students who were not ready for the transition and wanted to use hard copy. Those classroom sets have been in the classrooms for classroom use for the last four years. Fast forward to today, , and the majority of our students are comfortable, fluid and very fluent with digital 1:1. We have decided to move the classroom sets out of the classroom and into the library. Students who still want to reference a paper copy of the text can now check them out and use them at home, if they need to. Contrary to the social media and blog traffic, we are not holding some sort of dystopian book burning party somewhere. We are retaining the textbooks, making them accessible, and making it possible for a student to check them out and use them at home. Of course, any student with an IEP or a 504 who has vision challenges, has accommodations in place for those challenges.
I hope this helps to clarify some things.
Elisa A. Ferrell
Board Representative | District 3 | Huntsville City Schools | 256.655.8019
She followed up Ms. Threlkeld’s questions with the final response:
4/7/16 5:14 pm
That is fine. I am double checking my numbers on the cost of the digital curriculum. We had an initial outlay and then some additional update charges with Pearson, so I might be low on both the cost of traditional text books. I am verifying numbers, but I believe the cost of traditional text books would have been $23.5 million for 7 years and the cost of digital was $20.5 million for 6 years.
Elisa A. Ferrell
Board Representative | District 3 | Huntsville City Schools | 256.655.8019
State Funding for Textbooks
Yes, state funding has been inadequate for textbooks over the past decade; however, it is not zero in the current budget. In 2014, the budget allowed for $35.00 per student. In 2015, the budget was raised to $52.71 per student. While this is not sufficient to cover the complete cost of the textbooks, the city of Huntsville does make up the difference. The state does currently provide funding for textbooks. By finishing her history with the state providing zero funding, she is not offering a clear picture of the current situation.
”Our Text Books Were In A State Of Advanced Age And Disrepair”
Prior to Dr. Wardynski’s arrival, the Textbook Curriculum Committee had last met in 2008 to update the district’s textbooks. As textbooks typical remain in circulation for at least six years, these books were approximately three years old when Wardynski arrived.
Ms. Ferrell claims that there was a Biology textbook being used in “one school . . . that were over 40 years old.” I have checked extensively with teachers across the district who were here in 2011. (Sadly, most of these teachers are no longer teaching in our schools.) None of them have any memory of a school using a biology textbook that was 40 years old.
In fact, the typical response to this claim was laughter. To be frank, most were ROFLMAO, if you take my meaning.
This is almost as goofy as a time when she told a Special Education parent that before Wardynski arrived in the district, all a SPED parent had to do was threaten a lawsuit, and the district would pay them $20,000.
It is possible that a single school might have had a single teacher who had a text that old in her possession (people who value books don’t throw them away), but there is no evidence that this was the only biology text that an entire school had access to as Ferrell is clearly implying.
Cost of Upgrading Printed Texts
Ferrell claims that “the cost to update all the texts was in the $19-20 million range and we were in debt by about $21 million, so there was just not money to do it.”
When Wardynski was selling the district on adopting the digital curriculum during a presentation to the board on June 21, 2012, he claimed that the cost of upgrading the printed textbooks would be “somewhere around 15 to 19 million dollars. In paper. And that would involve warehousing and moving it around, all those things people are very used to see that went along with paper.”
It would seem that the cost printed textbook cost has gone up since Wardynski’s presentation.
By the way, there is no need to upgrade the entire district’s textbooks at exactly the same time. Most districts stagger the purchase of new books to spread the cost out.
Furthermore, yes, the district was in debt in 2010 and 2011 due to the school board’s refusal to provide oversight of the finances at that time. The actual amount of the debt varied between $19 and 21 million. However, according to Mr. Spinelli’s Budget Hearing presentation dated August 16, 2012 (or two months after Dr. Wardynski’s presentation on adopting the digital curriculum), the district’s general fund balance was not $21 million in debt, but rather $5,660,950.86 in the black. Further, that report also claimed that the district would have a general fund balance of $14,600,950.86 by October 31, 2012.
By the time that we were signing the contract with Pearson (the initial contract was signed on July 12, 2012), the district was completely out of debt. Dr. Ed Richardson saw to that when he left before Wardynski was hired.
”Financial Impact Would Be Less”
Ferrell claims that going to Pearson’s Digital Curriculum in 2012 would have a lower “financial impact” upon the district. Let’s take a look at that.
Let’s assume that as she claims in her final email that the cost of printed textbooks in 2012 would have been “$23.5 million for 7 years and the cost of digital was $20.5 million for 6 years.”
Is that actually less?
- Printed: $23.5 for 7 years = $3.35 million per year
- Pearson Digital: $20.5 for 6 years = $3.41 million per year
The last time I checked, $3.41 million per year is actually more than $3.35 million per year.
Since Ms. Ferrell claimed that she was double checking her numbers, I decided that it would be a good idea to double check the costs of the digital curriculum as well. Here’s what I found.
2012 Digital 1:1 Conversion Pearson Contract
The contract was revised several times since then. The most recent revision that occurred just a month ago, that Ferrell voted to approve, called for a reduction of the Pearson Contract by about $2 million. The current contract for the Pearson Digital Curriculum calls for the district to pay $18,760,902.90.
So, assuming that her numbers are correct, the printed texts would have cost $3.35 million per year, and the Pearson digital curriculum would be $3.13 million per year. So, if the total cost of the Pearson digital curriculum were the total cost of the Digital 1:1 transition, that would be a small savings (again, assuming that $23.5 million, which is much more than the $15 million Wardynski estimate from 2012, is correct.)
But the Pearson digital curriculum is not the total cost of the transition, is it?
2012 HP Computer Contract
The Pearson digital curriculum is useless without a computer to view the curriculum on, isn’t it?
It took quite a while to get it (the contract was signed 6/18/2012, but it wasn’t publicly available until December 2012 for some reason), but the actual cost of the HP computers that the district distributed in 2012 was $10,624,000 for three years. That did not include the cost of distributions or repairs. I don’t have accurate numbers for those costs, but they were substantial. If we take the Lenovo contract as a baseline for repair costs, it’s fair to estimate that they were at least in the range of $2 million, but since I do not have an accurate estimate of those expenses, I’ll not include them here.
The cost of the HP computers to view the Pearson digital curriculum was $3.5 million a year for three years.
That means the cost of the digital transition jumped from $18,760,902.90 to $29,384,902.90. Thus, we are already exceeding Ferrell’s ever increasing cost for the printed textbooks by nearly $6 million. But the computer costs didn’t end there.
2015 Lenovo Computer Contract
In 2015, the district replaced the HP computers with new Lenovo computers. These were much better computers (as is typically the case when you buy a new computer after three years), but they were also more expensive since the contract also included a repair program and assistance with the distribution.
The Lenovo contract was $16,366,000 for three years. Thus, the cost of the Lenovo computers to view the Pearson digital curriculum is $5.5 million per year for three years.
The cost of the Digital Transition have now jumped from $29,384,902.90 to $45,750,902.90.
I have been unable to find a contract for the purchase of 5,060 iPads in 2012. It doesn’t seem that it was ever brought before the board of education for approval at that time. Sadly, this is not unusual.
Assuming that the district received at least the Apple Educational Discount on the iPads and that they were purchased for less than the retail costs of $499 per iPad (which was the initial cost of the iPad 2s that the district purchased in 2012), we can estimate that the iPads were at least $399 per unit for a total of $2,018,940.
These iPads (despite being 4 years old as the iPad 2 was introduced in March 2011), are still in use. Assuming that they will last until 2017, this breaks down to an annual cost of $336,490.
This raises the cost of the Digital transition from $45,750,902.90 to $47,769,842.90
Digital Curriculum is More than Twice as Much as Printed Curriculum
So let’s review:
- Pearson Curriculum: $18,760,902.90 for 6 years or $3,126,817.15 per year.
- HP Computers: $10,624,000.00 for 3 years or $3,541,333.33 per year.
- Lenovo Computers: $16,366,000.00 for 3 years or $5,455,333.33 per year
- iPads: $2,018,940.00 for 6 years or $336,490.00 per year.
- Total Digital Curriculum Costs: $47,769,842.90 or $7,961,640.48 per year.
- Total Printed Curriculum Costs (Ferrell’s Estimate): $23,500,000 or $3,916,667 per year.
The digital curriculum costs at least twice as much as the printed curriculum. Ms. Ferrell, as is typical, needs to recheck her numbers.
Ferrell Claims Books Will Remain In School; Keith Ward Disagrees
Ferrell concluded, “Contrary to the social media and blog traffic, we are not holding some sort of dystopian book burning party somewhere. We are retaining the textbooks, making them accessible, and making it possible for a student to check them out and use them at home.”
This is not what Board Spokesperson Keith Ward told The Huntsville Times yesterday. He stated, “They will still have them in the library if they need to check them. . . . The books being removed now will enter the system’s ‘asset management’ program. Some will be kept, he said, and some will be sold.”
Principals have been told that the books will be sold. Librarians have been told that they will be allowed to keep no more than a tenth of the textbooks the district is actively collecting right now.
The “plan” it seems is for no more than a tenth of the district’s already limited copies of textbooks to remain in school. Thus, let than 10% of our students will be able “to check them out and use them at home.”
Ferrell may dismiss “social media and blog traffic” as distortions, but without social media and blogs none of this information would have been shared with parents in the district. If Ferrell truly wished to “clarify some things,” it would have been nice if she had discussed any of these “things” before we found out about them via social media and blogs.
Part of the job requirement she accepted when she was elected was to help keep her constituents informed. It’s a shame that she did nothing to communicate this to the community before it was raised by social media and blogs. Perhaps if she were better at her job, the blogs would not need to exist.