EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

February 16, 2014

Trying to compute who will pay for new laptops

Deal to lease new MacBook Pros called a 'mistake,' but 'right thing' for the students

ANDOVER — The school department’s four-year lease of 160 laptops for teachers at the end of fiscal 2013 has become a bone of contention among town officials this year, as they argue over who approved the deal and who’s going to pay for it over the next three years.

“Somehow they went from needing 400 computers to needing 560,” Finance Committee member Greg Serrao said recently. “They bought 160 computers, but it was not in the budget. They had surplus money and used the surplus, but leased the machines for three or four years. So this year, they have to pay for the computers out of the operating budget.

“Nobody knew they were doing this,” Serrao said. “The selectmen didn’t even know. It makes you wonder about internal controls. The IT guy goes out, leases computers for $200,000 and didn’t tell anyone about the leasing.”

During a meeting in December, when the lease deal first came to light, several selectmen expressed astonishment at the deal.

“Who approved that?” Selectman Mary Lyman asked. “And why are we finding out about it now?”

Added Selectman Brian Major, “We are talking about money we hadn’t planned for. Government can’t work that way. That’s how you get into deficits. ... That’s a disservice to the citizens of the community and a disservice to us.”

CIO blamed

The four-year lease deal was requested by school Superintendent Marinel McGrath in conjunction with the town’s Chief Information Officer Paul Puzzanghera at the end of last fiscal year.

In 2012, Town Meeting approved a $2.5 million plan to purchase IT equipment to modernize school and town offices. Part of that included using money from the cable TV fund to lease 400 laptops over two years for so-called “knowledge workers,” such as teachers, administrators and town officials.

The computers, MacBook Pros, were leased from Apple for four years.

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