Olentangy Local School District officials have begun to discuss the possibility of charging parents a "technology fee" in exchange for providing electronic devices for all district students.

Rob Sexton, the district's director of technology, said earlier this month an upcoming decision on whether to maintain or increase the number of devices available for student use is a "big dilemma" for Olentangy officials.

Sexton said requests for additional laptop computers are a common refrain from the teachers who work throughout the district.

"Every time I go out to a building, I always get (the question), 'Hey, can we get more devices?' " he said.

The district owns about 18,000 devices, including computers donated by PTOs and other groups, which the district does not replace. According to Olentangy's most-recent enrollment report, more than 20,600 students attend grades K-12 in the district.

Sexton said the ages of the district's devices vary from new to seven years old. He said the types of devices also vary, with Chromebook laptops being the most prevalent.

Sexton said the existing situation leads to inconsistent budgets and tough choices about how and when to replace older machines. He said the district's current arrangement also can lead to compatibility and scheduling concerns.

"It also limits access to resources," he said. "(Classrooms) share (laptop) carts a lot."

Sexton said Olentangy could solve some existing problems by becoming what's known as a "one-to-one" district.

"It means consistent access to a device," he said. "If it's all the same model, or close to that model, it's (also) easy to support what we have and stockpile replacement parts."

Sexton said Olentangy is "surrounded" by districts that are becoming one-to-one districts or moving in that direction.

"Most of them are implementing some sort of technology fee," he said.

Sexton said about $120 per year per student could cover the district's cost to pay for a Chromebook or similar device and "accidental damage" coverage for each student.

Superintendent Mark Raiff said the district is in the early stages of examining the potential arrangement. He likened a fee for technology to a fee for art class or a sport.

Raiff said he's "always philosophically been OK with fees" because they do not lead to an increased burden on taxpayers who do not have school-age children.

"People who are utilizing the services while their kids are in school are paying slightly more than the people who aren't," he said of the potential fee arrangement.

Raiff said the district "started to go down the path" of becoming a "bring-your-own-device" district. He said Olentangy officials have not seen widespread support for the idea that parents will furnish devices for their students' daily use in school.

Sexton said some parents worry about their own devices breaking while at school, while others think it should be the district's responsibility to provide them.

School board member Julie Wagner Feasel said parents might appreciate the simplicity of the district providing devices for students in exchange for a fee.

"When I was buying my kids' supplies, you could either buy the supplies on your own or by the box from the PTO," she said. "I bought the box from the PTO because that was so much easier."

Raiff said the discussion of the potential fee is in its "beginning phases." He said he wants to collect feedback from parents about how the district should approach the issue before officials make any decision.

Feasel said she wants more information about how the one-to-one approach has worked in districts such as Big Walnut and Pickerington before making any change.

tgallick@thisweeknews.com

@twgallick