Bridgeport mayor suggests buying 2,000 student laptops for $500k
BRIDGEPORT — Mayor Joseph Ganim believes the city needs to reallocate $500,000 to purchase 2,000 laptops so upper grade students can better access distance-learning programs.
But just where that money would come from is unknown to some of the City Council members.
Ganim has taken to Facebook Live everyday around noon to conduct a town meeting in which he discusses various issues impacting residents, businesses and city employees during the governor’s stay-home directive to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. On Monday, the mayor said he had spoken to Acting Superintendent of Schools Michael Testani and City Council leadership about reallocating $500,000 in funding to purchase approximately 2,000 laptops.
“I spoke to the state about how they’re doing 60,000 computers — we haven’t seen one yet and that’s not a criticism,” the mayor said. “But we need to move ahead quickly if we’re going to do remote learning and we’re going to be the best we can at it. We need to make the transition. We need to do the full pivot where we can for as many students as we can. If that means committing more resources to that, we’re going to do that.”
And getting students laptops is only half the battle, which is why the mayor commended Optimum and the private sector for stepping up during this crisis. Ganim said Optimum has made its emergency designated WiFi hotspots available to people living in the 06604, 06605, 06606 and 06608 zip codes.
The mayor said he’s going “to look at purchasing up to 2,000 laptops in conjunction with the Board of Ed. with the support of the City Council and start with where they’re felt to be best applied. If others don’t supply high school seniors with laptops quickly, we’ll buy them and we’ll get them in their hands. We think this is critical.”
Scott Burns, who co-chairs the Council’s budgetary committee, said Ganim did not talk to him about it. Both he and his co-chair, Mike DeFilippo said they have no idea where this money will come from.
They have scheduled a virtual meeting for Tuesday night, but Burns said reallocation of $500,000 is not on the agenda and would require a special meeting.
Meanwhile, Testani said he already has spoke to vendors.
“If we were to get the money today or tomorrow,” Testani said he optimistically believes he could have the laptops by April 20 depending on how long it takes to install the necessary software and programs.
“That would give us two full months of access to distance learning,” said Testani, who suspects schools probably will close for the rest of the year.
But Hernan Illingworth, the Board of Education’s vice chairman, would like to take the purchase one step further.
“I’m hoping we can take that $500,000 and match it on our part to some extent,” he said. “I’m wishful. ... I’d like to see us have all new devices by the start of the school year in the fall.”
Testani suggested the new devices go first to high school students who don’t have access to computers in their homes. Any left over would go to eighth and then seventh grade students.
He estimates about half of the city’s 22,000 students already have access to computers in their home. There are about 5,000 students attending high school and another 3,200 in seventh and eighth grades.
For those interested in hearing more about how the district’s distance learning has been going so far, on Tuesday at 3 p.m. Testani will use the city’s page to host a Facebook Live session to discuss the subject with parents and students.
“I’ll be telling and demonstrating to parents the simplest way to get their children’s work to their teachers is by photographing the pages with a smart phone and then emailing the photos to the teachers,” he said. “Then they don’t have to worry about coming to the school with completed pages.”
As for students, he said he will encourage them to stay committed to learning during these days away.
“We’re looking to put a plan in place that may involve implementing some summer programs and then on Saturdays and after school in the fall,” he said.
As for graduating to the next grade level, the acting superintendent said it will be based on the three previous marking periods as well as what is completed during this time away from school.
He suggested that parents consider what other states are allowing, which is continuing the same grade the child was in next year.
“If it was my child that’s what I would do,” he said.
Illingworth said that might be a good idea for the younger students “but I don’t know how parents or students who are older and in the upper grades would react.”