Cobb County iBook program halted

A deal between Apple and Georgia’s Cobb County School District that could ultimately result in 63,000 iBooks has been stopped cold because of a lawsuit filed by a former county commissioner. Superior Court Judge S. Lark Ingram ordered the iBook deployment to stop on Friday.

Heralded as the largest ever “one-to-one” computing initiative, Cobb County’s “Power to Learn” program used money earmarked from a special tax fund Georgia taxpayers in individual counties can request called Special Purpose Location Option Sales Tax, or SPLOST. How this tax override was represented to voters is central to the judge’s decision, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution .

Cobb County School District PR director Jay Dillon told MacCentral in May that the deal with Apple funding the first phase of the “Power to Learn” program cost the school district about $23.5 million — less than one quarter the amount some local news agencies had reported, and about four percent of the overall SPLOST program. That phase of the plan, which began in May, was supposed to put 17,000 iBooks into the hands of teachers across the district, as well as high school students at four “demonstration” sites.

Apple had hoped that, if the first phase was successful, it would ultimately lead to a total of 63,000 iBooks installed in the Cobb County school program. Experts from the University of Georgia’s Learning & Performance Support Laboratory were to measure the program’s effectiveness before Cobb County school officials would have voted on whether to continue the program.

That wasn’t good enough for former Cobb County commissioner Butch Thompson, however. Thompson filed suit against Cobb County to stop the program earlier this year. Represented by former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, Thompson argued that taxpayers were misled about how the SPLOST money would be spent.

The language of the tax override passed by Cobb County voters in 2003 wasn’t specific enough to inform voters that the money might be used to fund the lease of laptop computers, according to Thompson. “I didn’t vote for laptops for every student in the county, and I don’t think anyone else did,” Thompson told the Associated Press in June.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that judge Ingram agreed, and put the brakes on the program. “As a result of the ruling, the only way school officials could pay for the program would be to use their general fund,” said the newspaper.

The school board will meet on Monday evening, August 1, 2005 to discuss the decision and determine whether they’ll appeal the ruling.

Representatives from Cobb County and Apple were not available for comment on the ruling as MacCentral posted this article.

This story, "Cobb County iBook program halted" was originally published by PCWorld.

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