Taxpayers Fight to Save Macs

A decision by a North Carolina school district to ditch its Macintosh computers is causing bitter divisions in the community over Macs versus PCs in the classroom.

The Carteret County Board of Education is planning to standardize on PCs running Microsoft Windows, a resolution that is pitting neighbor against neighbor in the idyllic beach communities along North Carolina’s coast.

The school board decided last year to phase out all the Macs in its 16 K-12 schools in favor of PCs.

Dell PCs will begin replacing Macs this fall, as needed. The district, which serves 8,200 pupils, currently has about 2,200 Macs and 1,000 Windows machines.

But a persistent and vocal citizen’s group has doggedly petitioned the school district not to ditch its Apple computers.

“These school people have essentially no basis for excluding Macs,” said the group’s leader, retired physicist and Mac consultant John Droz. “None, nada, zip, zero.”

According to Droz, the citizens group regularly mobilizes dozens of protestors to attend board meetings and raise the Mac issue.

“In three and a half years on the school board I have spent more time discussing and investigating this issue than any other,” said board member Mike Hodges. “People who use Apples are very adamant about their product choice.”

Hodges said the board decided to switch to PCs to save money and to keep in line with other school districts. In addition, the district wants to support only one platform, not two, and there’s a general feeling that “Macs have moved away from the education market,” he said.

“It’s not something we are entering into lightly,” he explained. “After all the meetings, I’m convinced that we were correct in moving toward the PC platform.”

Hodges, who uses a Mac at home, has in the past received computer advice from Droz. Hodges has not consulted with him since the controversy began, according to Droz.

Hodges accuses Droz of being a “part-time citizen” – Droz lives in New York and owns a beach house in the area – and for initiating all the complaints he has received about the issue.

Droz is the founder of the North Carolina Crystal Coast Mac Users Group.

“I don’t believe any of the calls were from parents,” Hodges said. “No one who called me referenced having children in the system.”

Tom Colven, a retiree who represented the group at board meetings this summer, said that even though it is largely made up of Mac users, they call themselves a citizens group because “somebody might think a Mac group is biased, which we’re not.”

Colven said the main reason to stick with Macs is cost. The group believes Macs are cheaper to administrate and that switching to PCs will ultimately raise their taxes, he said.

According to Droz, the decision to switch platforms was made by two school administrators with limited Mac knowledge, and rubber-stamped by the school board.

“Somehow, they’ve lost track of who they are representing,” he said. “A taxpayer should be able to go to meetings and ask questions and get answers…. We want an objective, unbiased, thorough, open and well-documented review of this whole matter.”

Droz charged school officials with providing poor support for the Macs, choosing Novell servers with incompatibility problems, and failing to keep the Mac systems current with free software updates from Apple.

Droz runs a website that he said includes more than 200 reports and studies supporting the standardization of Macs over Windows PCs in schools and businesses.

Historically, Macs dominated the education market until the early 1990s, when key executives left the company, said Ed Coughlin, a senior vice president at the Metiri Group, a California educational technology consulting firm.

But after several years of losing ground to aggressive PC makers, Dell in particular, Apple appears to be regaining its footing.

Market research firm Quality Education Data said Apple is once again a leading supplier of computer equipment to schools.

“They (Apple and Dell) are both pretty close – neck and neck – for the education market,” said analyst Cynthia Perry.

“It’s a matter of supporting one platform versus two platforms, which in the long run is cheaper,” said David Lenker, Carteret County’s school superintendent.

Lenker added that the district’s iMacs do not work with the Computer Curriculum Corporation software used throughout the district. The program –- which offers reading, writing and math lessons – can be customized to each student and is correlated to state standards.

The citizens group has asked the school board for an outside evaluation of the situation, but nothing has been scheduled at this point.

“This debate has a long and storied history, with neither side willing to give an inch – or a byte,” wrote Tom O’Neal, managing editor of the local paper, the Carteret County News-Times.

“It’s kind of like letting a Ford lover and a Chevy lover argue over which car is the best.”

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