Our quest to get new laptops for teachers is done, but not without some 12th-hour drama. Trying to complete a major purchase (215 mobile devices) when there isn’t any money and the future budgets are so uncertain requires the committment of everyone – including the Board, district leadership, and tech staff. I have to commend the Board’s vision and committment to our teachers to authorize a purchase of this magnitude when there’s so much uncertainty and pressure on our budgets. Working with the Business Services department, we were able to pull together enough funding that wasn’t part of the general fund (EETT funds, eRate reimbursement funds, etc.) to fund the laptops. Working with Dell, we were able to locate a unit that met our performance requirements and our budget limitations. We tested a Dell Vostro 1014, running Ubuntu, and we tested all the software we could identify that teachers would need and other software they might find useful that they probably didn’t know about. We ordered the laptops, and had a delivery committment from Dell.
Then I went on vacation.
While I was on vacation I got notice that there was a problem and I contacted Dell. Our Dell rep said he was very sorry, but they would not be able to deliver the Vostro 1014 laptops as promised. In the course of our conversations over the next three days, Dell was also not able (or willing – still not sure which is the case) to deliver any of five different laptops that would meet our performance and budget requirements. Dell would be more than happy, according to our rep, to provide us with some significantly higher-priced units, but our budget constaints wouldn’t allow it. At that point, Oscar and Tony (my crack tech staff) went to work and contacted all of the major vendors. Mind you, we now had very, very little time to make this work – after weeks of testing units, building an image, getting field testing from our Technology Champions – we had three days to find a unit and still be able to get something in place in order to conduct training and get units in the hands of teachers before the start of the school year.
Oscar and Tony located a unit from Toshiba with similar specs to the Vostro (even better – bigger screen, numeric keypad on the keyboard!). We overnighted a unit for testing. The video chipset runs flaky under our Ubuntu mix, though, and we are out of time to work on a fix. Now, we have a conundrum – give up on the mobile units for teachers, or delay our move to an open source operating system. I’m not going to force teachers to go through another school year using now 7-year old laptops. We’ll stick with Windows 7 for now, and see about Ubuntu down the road. We’ll certainly solve the issues with Ubuntu and the laptop, and if teachers want to make the switch we’ll accommodate it.
So, mission accomplished – we will be providing brand new laptops for our teachers. Strategically, we are moving ahead. Tactically, things didn’t go quite as planned. But, as always, that’s the way of the world. I can’t begin to express my dissatisfaction with Dell – we trusted them for a critical purchase, and they let us down, big time. Kudos to Toshiba for stepping up and coming through in an absolute pinch.