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Popkey: Purchasing official’s departure prompts questions over laptop deal

Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports this morning that state Purchasing Manager Mark Little resigned nine days after voters rejected the state's proposed $180 million-plus school laptop contract, prompting Statehouse speculation that he'd left in disgust over the process. State Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna told Popkey that Little left to take a job closer to his family and grandkids and defended the laptop contract process; Little declined to comment. You can read Popkey's full post here.
  

Contract: No cost to state now that Prop 3 voted down

I've had several inquiries from readers concerned that now that voters have rejected Proposition 3, that the state would face costs related to the now-canceled $182 million laptop contract with Hewlett-Packard. I can verify that according to H-P's Business and Scope of Work Proposal, which is included in the contract as Exhibit D, the state is not required to make any payments.

Bidders were asked to outline early termination costs if Prop 3 didn't pass. H-P said the cost would be zero, as its period of performance for the contract wouldn't begin until the day after the election. It's in Exhibit D on page 102-3; you can read those two pages here. It says, "With a projected start date after November 6, HP anticipates that there will be no lease funding necessary as no notebook units would have shipped or have been accepted prior to the Proposition 3 ballot in November 2012. Hewlett-Packard will not fund any Lease Schedule under the Master Agreement until and unless Proposition 3 has been approved by Idaho voters in November, 2012."

‘Buyout’ clause in laptop contract is not just a contingency, it’s a required cost

It turns out that the "buyout" clause in the $182 million laptop contract is not what the State Department of Education originally described - a  cost that "is only paid if the contract is severed for some reason" and "may or may not be paid." In response to my repeated inquiries, after I found no reference to such an early-cancellation buyout fee in the contract, SDE spokeswoman Melissa McGrath told me this afternoon, "That would be my error." Instead, the "buyout" clause is the amount the state would have to pay at the end of the contract term - after it's run its full eight years - to buy out the remaining years in the four-year leases on the laptops, for those with years remaining. That means it's definitely a cost that will remain part of the total.

I'm still awaiting answers as to why the amount estimated by the department, $14.2 million, doesn't match up to the amount of remaining lease payments times the number of units, which comes to $21.9 million. If that's the required buyout at the end of the term, the total contract cost is nearly $190 million - $189,687,228 - not the $181,935,125 the department estimates.

McGrath said the difference in amount comes because the state is scheduled to pay the laptop leases in two semi-annual installments each year, with the two payments together totaling $292.77 per unit per year. "The $14.2 million figure was an estimate HP provided for us," McGrath said in an email. "The $21 million calculation would have been based on the full cost of the buyout, yet since the state is doing semi-annual payments with HP, it will only pay half of these costs at the end of 8 years."

Here's my problem with that logic: Whether you pay in two installments or a single piece, you still pay the same amount. The state's estimates show no additional payment in Year 8 for the first half of the buyouts; costs for Year 8 are estimated at $26,459,382, the exact same amount as for years 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the contract, an amount that's exactly equal to the estimated 90,376 laptops times $292.77.

McGrath, who is checking back once again with the SDE's accounting department and will get back to me, said, "I believe either it's already factored in or it's not getting paid. This is the full amount of the contract."

Incidentally, the contract also allows for up to a 4 percent increase in the $292.77 rate after the first four years, if HP can provide "full justification as to why the adjustment is necessary." If that full 4 percent increase were approved at that point, it would add another $4.2 million to cost of the eight-year contract.

Former state official would play key role under laptop contract

The state's $182 million, eight-year contract for laptop computers for high school students includes information about key staffers for the companies that partnered in the successful bid, including Hewlett-Packard, Education Networks of America and Xtreme Consulting. Among them is a familiar name: Garry Lough, Idaho director of customer services for ENA. Until March 2 of this year, Lough was a state of Idaho employee, working for the state Department of Education and the Department of Administration as communications director for the Idaho Education Network.

The IEN is a state project that provides a broadband connection to every Idaho high school; despite a lawsuit from other bidders, ENA and partner Qwest, now CenturyLink, won the multimillion-dollar statewide contract in 2009. Now, it has a continuing $8 million annual contract to operate the network for the state.

Lough is a former Idaho Republican Party executive director who went to work for the state in 2007 as  a legislative liaison for the State Department of Education after a stint with the state controller's office. According to state records, during his five years with the state, his pay rose from about $65,000 a year to about $72,800 a year.

Now, Lough is in a key position as ENA is a subcontractor with Hewlett-Packard in the laptop computer contract, with ENA in charge of setting up and operating wireless networks in every Idaho high school, using that same broadband connection the firm already helped bring to the schools with the IEN. "I think it'll be a great asset to the state," Lough said. "We have great relationships to a lot of the schools, we've demonstrated success." He said the IEN project came in below budget and a year ahead of schedule. "And I think that same effort and deliverable is going to be executed (in the new project), if everything can proceed as we'd like it to."

As for his move from the state to ENA, "It was just a good timing and there were some synergies there," said Lough, who holds a degree in international studies from Idaho State University. "Basically they had a national guy that was here a lot, and it was just becoming too costly." In addition to working on the Idaho project, Lough is working on an ENA bid for a major school network project in Wyoming. "My job as director of customer services is to ensure that all the end users, the customers of the IEN, are being served optimally," he said, "and also to pursue other opportunities in other states." You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
  

Expert on laptop contract: ‘A really complex deal’

I spoke last night with Leslie Fiering, research vice president for Gartner Inc., a leading market research and advisory firm focusing on the information technology industry and a recognized expert in major IT acquisitions, about Idaho's $182 million laptop contract. She said lease deals are not uncommon, and said she couldn't say if it's a good deal or not for the state. "It's a really complex deal," she said. But she pointed to a plus for the state: "They have a built-in refresh," meaning the deal automatically calls for the laptops to be replaced every four years. "So that means that they're not struggling to keep old equipment going. It means that they're not scrambling to pull up capital budget every year, which could then get cut. Assuming they could keep this funded, it gives them a secure basis for operations."

She added, "I work with school districts on a regular basis who are tying themselves into knots trying to figure out how they're going to get these devices into the hands of kids."

On the down side for the state, she said, "There is liability on the accidental breakage," which Fiering said could prove "contentious." She said, "Kids are very tough on the machines. … I used to joke that the kids were second only to the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan in how rough they are on their computers, and I was corrected by the hardware manufacturers, the maintenance organizations and the school districts that I work with that I was wrong, the kids are worse than the soldiers. So I can understand why H-P did that to protect themselves."

$182M laptop contract is just for rental, not purchase

Idaho's newly inked $182 million, eight-year contract with Hewlett-Packard Co. for laptop computers for its high school students contains a surprising feature - the state won't actually own the computers, and if they're lost, damaged or stolen, it'll have to pay H-P for them. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com. The contract price is $292.77 per year per laptop, with each unit on a four-year replacement schedule. That means over the four years, the state will pay $1,171 per unit, including wireless networks and training as well as the laptops themselves.

H-P, in the contract, agrees to provide a full manufacturer's warranty on the laptops for four years. An example: If the hard drive went out in the third year, they'd replace it. But they wouldn't cover accidental loss, damage or theft. State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said the state doesn't expect much in the way of such losses. “In speaking with other schools and the state of Maine that have fully implemented one-to-one programs, they estimate just about 1 percent of devices a year, if even that, must be replaced or repaired outside the warranty,” she said. “We do not believe Idaho will be any different.”
 


Supplying every Idaho high school student with a laptop computer is a centerpiece of Idaho state schools Superintendent Tom Luna's "Students Come First" school reform plan, which goes before voters next week in three ballot measures. If voters reject Proposition 3, the laptop contract would be canceled. Luna has touted the contract as a bargain for the state; a copy was obtained by The Spokesman-Review on Tuesday under the Idaho Public Records Law.

Contract: State must pay if laptops are damaged, lost or stolen

Here's a surprising feature of the state's new $182 million, eight-year contract with Hewlett-Packard for laptop computers for high school students: The company will retain title to the computers, and the state, which will just be renting them, will be liable for all risk of loss, including damage or theft. The contract, in Attachment 1 on Page 5, says, "Lessee," which in this case is the state, "shall bear the entire risk of loss with respect to any asset damage, destruction, loss, theft, or governmental taking, whether partial or complete." If a laptop is damaged, the state must have it repaired at state expense - within 60 days. If one is lost or stolen, the state would have to pay H-P for it.

The amount the state would have to pay would be the "casualty value," which would be, "All amounts due to date of payment plus the remaining payments for the balance of the Schedule term plus $35." The schedule term? Four years. The state has contracted to pay $292.77 per unit per year, with each unit on a four-year replacement schedule; that means over the four years, the state will pay $1,171 per unit.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said the state doesn't expect much in the way of such losses. "In speaking with other schools and the state of Maine that have fully implemented one-to-one programs, they estimate just about 1 percent of devices a year, if even that, must be replaced or repaired outside the warranty," she said. "We do not believe Idaho will be any different."

H-P, in the contract, agrees to provide a full manufacturer's warranty on the laptops for four years. An example: If the hard drive went out in the third year, they'd replace it. But they wouldn't cover accidental loss, damage or theft. In fact, H-P writes in its proposal that it "strongly recommends" an optional one-year accidental damage protection service that it provides for new laptops at a cost of $17 apiece. That's not covered by the contract, however. Neither is an optional service that would cover "No-Fault Replacement Service" for the computers. Schools or districts could purchase that additional service at a price of $4,750 for 10 incidents, according to the contract.

The contract includes a provision that H-P will provide extra units - 3 percent beyond those ordered - for "hot-spare replacement units." That would allow a student whose computer stops working to get an immediate replacement, while the non-working one goes in for repair. But that's only for items covered by the manufacturer's warranty. "Those not covered under the four-year warranty would be in addition to the contract," McGrath said.
  

What the contract says…

I'm still awaiting answers from the State Department of Education to a series of questions I had after reviewing the $182 million, eight-year contract between the state of Idaho and Hewlett-Packard Co. for laptop computers. But one thing is clear: The state's not getting the laptops for $249 apiece.

A fact sheet the department distributed on the day the contract was signed said, "Idaho is paying $249.77 per student/teacher for the managed service of providing the device, maintenance, security and technology support. If you include wireless infrastructure and professional development, the state is paying $292.77 per student/teacher."

According to the contract, the state will pay $292.77 per laptop per year under a lease, and they're on a four-year replacement schedule. That means over the four years, the state will pay $1,171 per unit. At the end of the four years, the state is obligated to wipe the data from the laptops and let H-P pick them up, unless it wants to buy the units for $35 apiece. It also would have the option of buying them before the four years are up at various discounts: $147.56 after three years; $260.12 after two years; or $372.68 after one year.

Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, disputes the $1,171-per-unit figure, because the $292.77 is a "fully burdened" cost per unit that includes tech support, wireless system maintenance, training and more. (However, in addition to the $292.77 per unit per year, the contract calls for the state to pay H-P $5.5 million for "infrastructure and project startup cost.")

"It's not just one device and you're paying for it every single year to get that device - you're paying for a lot more than that," McGrath said. If you use the department's $249.77 figure instead, the state's cost per laptop would be $999 over the four-year period.

The $180 million-plus laptop contract…

Here it is - the $181,935,125 eight-year contract that the state of Idaho has signed with Hewlett-Packard Co. to supply laptop computers to every Idaho high school student and teacher. It may take a bit to load, but you can see the full contract here; it's 362 pages, making a rather large pdf. Some portions have been redacted "relating to HP trade secrets." In response to my public records request, the State Department of Education provided the contract on paper only, saying, "the file was far too large to send electronically." I took it straight to Kinko's, where my newspaper paid to have it scanned it so I could post it here for you to see.

Lawmakers spar over laptop contract costs

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― The eight-year, $180 million pact with Hewlett-Packard Co. for laptops required under public schools chief Tom Luna's education overhaul is dividing Idaho's Republican lawmakers. Rep. Lynn Luker of Boise said Friday during a meeting inside the Capitol the price was "double pretty much what we anticipated." Sen. John Goedde of Coeur d'Alene countered it's only 10 percent above estimates. Who's right? In 2011, Luna estimated the five-year cost at $70.8 million, or $14.6 million annually. For the first five years of the actual H-P contract, the cost is $82 million, about 16 percent higher, conceded Luna spokeswoman Melissa McGrath. And over eight years, the average annual cost runs $22.5 million, well over Luna's estimate when calculated yearly. Voters weigh in on the computers and Luna's additional education changes Nov. 6.

Lawmakers suffering some ‘sticker shock’ over $180M laptop contract

The AP reports that with the $180 million contract now signed for laptop computers for Idaho's high schools, lawmakers are suffering from sticker shock. In 2011, when lawmakers were considering the laptop plan, chief proponent and state schools Supt. Tom Luna and his staff estimated the cost for five years at $60.8 million. When costs for improving the wireless infrastructure are added to the equation, staff pegged the total five-year price tag at $70.8 million. Now, it's $180 million over eight years. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

SDE: ‘Buyout’ clause in laptops contract wouldn’t kick in ‘til after the election

Here's the answer from state Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath as to how soon the $14.2 million "buyout" clause kicks in in the state's $180 million laptop contract, requiring the state to pay the contractor if it cancels the contract: "The buyout would not kick in until the state begins incurring costs. The state does not plan to do so until after Nov. 6. Right now, the state is in the process of working with HP and HP’s partners to develop a project plan based on the contract that was signed Tuesday. This will be done between 30-60 days from now, per the contract."

Also, it sounds like I'm not going to get the contract today. The SDE says their lawyers are still reviewing it before releasing it under the Idaho Public Records Law. "I would hope that you're going to get it tomorrow," McGrath said.

State releases a few more details about $180 million laptop contract

I still have not received a copy of the $180 million contract the state of Idaho signed yesterday with Hewlett-Packard Corp. and partners for laptop computers for Idaho high schools, but the State Department of Education just sent me this cost breakdown. It shows that the total amount of the contract is $181,935,125. Their figure for the total number of laptops matches the one from the RFP, at 90,376. But with the phase-in over the eight years, the total number of laptop-years in the contract comes to 554,251, because smaller numbers are included for the first, second and third years. The contract includes $292.77 for each of the 554,251 laptop-years, which adds up to $162,268,065.

Then, it adds on top of that $5.5 million for "incremental cost," defined as "upfront costs paid in the first few years of deployment for infrastructure" - even though the cost of setting up and maintaining the wireless networks is included in the $292.77 per-unit figure - and another $14,167,060 for "Buyout." The explanation for that: "This cost is only paid if the contract is severed for some reason. It is a built-in cost and may or may not be paid, but we chose to include it in the total cost. Cost without buyout is total $167,768,065."

This raises the question: If the voters, less than two weeks from now, turn thumbs-down on Proposition 3, does this contract require the state of Idaho to pay the contractors $14.2 million? Here's the answer from SDE spokeswoman Melissa McGrath: "We will not pay the buyout if Proposition 3 is overturned. There is specific language in the contract to address this."

Not yet answered: When does the buyout clause kick in?

Arithmetic and the $180 million contract…

I've heard a lot of questions today about the numbers behind the $180 million contract Idaho signed yesterday with Hewlett-Packard and partners to supply laptops to every Idaho high school student and teacher for the next eight years, under the "Students Come First" reform laws - the ones that are up for a possible repeal in the Nov. 6 election. Specifically, the state Department of Education said the contract equates to $249.77 per student or teacher per year for just the laptops, maintenance, security and tech support, or $292.77 if the costs of wireless infrastructure and professional development are added in.

According to the state's RFP for this project, the state estimated that 6,551 teachers and administrators would get laptops the first year, and it estimated the number of students, after a three-year phase-in, at 83,825. That's a total of 90,376 laptops. If you divide $180 million by 90,376, it comes out to $1,992 per laptop, not $250. However, the department specifically said it was paying that amount per laptop PER YEAR of the eight-year contract. So, multiply 90,372 laptops by eight years, and you get 723,008. Divide that number into $180 million, and the result is $249.

These may not be the exact numbers in the contract, as they're from the RFP as issued last spring; I have requested a copy of the contract under the Idaho Public Records Law. When I receive it, I will post it here.

Prop Backers Don’t Mention Laptops

I received this in the mail Tuesday from the Yes for Idaho Education group. What struck me most is the absence of anything to do with laptops for kids. In fact, the description provided by the Yes for Idaho Education group for Proposition 3 (which deals with laptops) simply sez: "Gives families a chance to save money on their education by earning up to a year of cllege credit in high school paid by the state." (Click on photo to see slightly larger version of flyer)

Question: Why didn't proponents of the Luna Laws mention laptops in their flyer?

Laptop Deal Dead Sans Voter OK

Item: HP wins Idaho laptop contract: $180 million computer deal for students null if Prop 3 fails/Betsy Russell, SR

On her Facebook wall, Kristi Nivette Milan post: "Luna just signed a contract with HP to spend $180 MILLION in the next 8 years to give $250 computers, made in China, to 14 year olds. They have budgeted $2.5 million for this year only. Do the math, they need $22.5 million per year to pay for these computers. WHO'S GOING TO PAY FOR THIS???? You guessed it, educators! Larger class sizes, less professional development, less benefits, cut sports, arts, music and electives to name a few options. But every high school student will have a computer to lose, destroy, leave at home, forget to charge or pawn. JUST VOTE NO on Prop 1,2,3."

Question: Do you plan to vote for Proposition 3 — the measure that would provide laptops for Idaho high school students?

Question:

Both sides dispute each others’ ads as school reform campaign launches

The campaign working to overturn Idaho's neducation reforms has launched a new radio advertisement calling a laptop program required under the plan an "unfunded mandate" that will require schools to spend millions of dollars they don't have, the AP reports, but the ad's claim that the laptops are unfunded conflicts with the $2.5 million lawmakers set aside to pay for the devices this fall when they'll go to every high school teacher. Students will start getting the laptops in 2013 under the reforms by public schools chief Tom Luna.

The fight over the three laws in Luna's reform package is heating up with less than three months left before voters decide whether to keep or ditch the sweeping changes that limited collective bargaining, phased out teacher tenure, introduced merit pay and put more technology in the classroom while requiring students to take online classes; click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

State says laptop purchases for schools still on track despite bidding snag

State officials say the plan to supply the first laptop computers of a multi-year phase-in aimed at getting one to every Idaho high school student is on track for fall, despite hitting a snag last month when the state canceled bidding for insufficient response and instead opted to negotiate directly with providers. "We are still on track to meet the program's original delivery objectives with the first wave of mobile computing devices reaching schools this fall," the state Department of Administration advised the state Department of Education ina memo late last week, the AP reports; click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner. 

Only three bids on school laptops, and only one qualifies, so bidding abandoned…

After only three companies submitted bids to supply Idaho high schools with laptop computers over the next five years, and only one of those bids met the qualifications, the state is abandoning the bidding process and instead will negotiate with providers of computers and services, the Associated Press reports. Under Idaho's "Students Come First" school reform law, Idaho plans to spend $60 million over the next five years to achieve a "1-to-1" ratio of laptop computers to high school students; teachers are up to receive the first laptops this fall, with the first batch going to students in the fall of 2013 - if voters don't overturn the law in a November referendum vote.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said the department is still confident it can get the first laptops to teachers this fall despite the bid setback; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Opponents of ‘Students Come First’ school reform laws kick off campaign

More than 100 people gathered on the steps outside Boise High School today to kick off a statewide campaign against the "Students Come First" school reform laws, which are up for possible repeal in three referendum measures on the November ballot. "We urge Idahoans to vote 'No' on all three propositions," said Mike Lanza, a Boise father of two and campaign chairman. "These laws take us backward, not forward. They make it harder for teachers to do their jobs effectively. They are bad for children, bad for teachers and bad for Idaho."

Gov. Butch Otter already has formed a PAC to fight to preserve the laws, and state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, the laws' author, pushed hard for them at last weekend's state Republican Party convention.

Lanza, drawing applause, said, "This is a non-partisan campaign. We have people from all political persuasions who support this effort. Education is important to everybody." Speakers at the campaign launch included Boise mother of four Maria Greeley, who said her son struggled in an online class last summer and ultimately opted to withdraw and take the class in person.  She decried the new requirement for online classes as a high school graduation requirement. "This one-size-fits-all mandate hurts our students and diminishes the quality of education," Greeley said.

Nampa 5th-grade teacher Sonia Galaviz said last year was the most difficult of her teaching career. "My classroom size jumped from 27 to 35," she said. "I had no aides. … However last year we did get various technological devices. … We would have done anything to turn those … into a live human teacher."

The reform laws include phasing in a laptop computer for every high school student, a new focus on online learning, a merit-pay bonus program for teachers based partly on test scores, and rolling back teachers' collective bargaining rights. Any new funds in the public school budget in future years would go first to those new programs, before other expenses such as teacher salaries.

Otter, Luna name Terrell, Horman and Shirley to anti-referendum campaign group

Gov. Butch Otter and state schools Superintendent Tom Luna have named leaders for their campaign to fight three voter referenda in November that seek to overturn the "Students Come First" school reform laws Luna and Otter championed in 2011. The controversial laws roll back teachers' collective bargaining rights and shift existing school funding to a new focus on online learning, laptop computers for every student, and a new performance-pay bonus system for teachers, along with other changes. Opponents gathered more than 74,000 signatures to place the referenda on the ballot, but follow-up bills added emergency clauses so that the reform laws took effect in the meantime; that would stop if voters decide in November to repeal them. Yesterday, the State Department of Education announced the 32 school districts that will be up first to receive laptops, with teachers to get them this fall and students in the fall of 2013.

The new "Yes for Idaho Education" group will be co-chaired by state Board of Education member Milford Terrell and Idaho Falls school board member Wendy Horman, with retiring state Rep. Mack Shirley, R-Rexburg, as treasurer. Lobbyist Ken Burgess is coordinating the effort. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner. Burgess said Otter plans a formal launch for the group in the coming days.

32 school districts around state chosen to get first laptops under ‘Students Come First’ laws

A mix of large and small school districts will be first in line when Idaho starts providing laptop computers for every ninth- through 12th-grader next year, according to a list obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. AP reporter Jessie Bonner reports that the state Department of Education selected 32 districts, allowing up to 47 high schools to participate when the laptops start going to students in 2013 under reforms championed by public schools chief Tom Luna.

The list includes big districts like Meridian and Boise in southwest Idaho, though they'll be limited on how many high schools can participate. Tiny school districts such as Culdesac in the north and Kimberly in the south also made the cut, as did two charter schools. The laptops will first go to every high school teacher this fall. Idaho has yet to select the device that will be deployed into high school classrooms statewide, Bonner reports; a May 25 deadline for computer vendors to submit bids to the state's Division of Purchasing has been extended until Monday.

Under Luna's reforms, Idaho is also becoming the first state in the nation to require high school students to take at least two credits online to graduate. The sweeping changes, which also limited collective bargaining talks while introducing teacher merit pay, were approved by state lawmakers in 2011 and targeted by critics, who were successful in getting a repeal initiative on the November ballot; click below for Bonner's full report.

Shari’s customers robbed of laptops

Two customers at Shari's restaurant in northwest Spokane had their laptops stolen out of their hands Sunday, police say.

The women were sitting in a booth about 4:50 p.m. when a man walked up, slammed a MacBook shut and grabbed it from one of them, then grabbed the other laptop that was nearby.

The thief, identified by police as Tyler C. Berens, 20, ran from the restaurant but was arrested minutes later at the McDonald's across the street. A McDonald's employee told police Berens walked into the store on a cellphone and said "I'm going to jail" before locking himself in the bathroom, according to court documents.

Police found Berens in the bathroom and recovered the laptops from a garbage can. Officers said Berens had two Xanex pills on him, which earned him drug possession charges in addition to second-degree robbery and second-degree theft charges for the laptop heists.

Berens already has a trial scheduled in May for property crimes charges related to a counterfeit check ring.

Luna: 2/3s Want 1st 1/3 Of Laptops

State schools Supt. Tom Luna said there's strong interest in being among the first third of schools to join the new “one-to-one” laptop computer program, in which every high school student would get a computer; his budget request includes $2.5 million for that next year. “Just as it is in every other part of our lives, we recognize that technology is no longer a 'nice-to-have' tool in the classroom. It is an essential tool,” Luna said. He's asked schools and districts to send letters of interest if they want to be in the first third; so far, he's gotten 73 letters representing 139 schools and more than 57,000 students - that's two-thirds of the state's high school students/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: Wouldn't you want a free laptop, too?

Citizen recognized fugitive from news

An alert citizen helped police arrest prolific theft suspect Wednesday after recognizing him from news reports.

Officers found Sean Alexander Blair, 31, outside Safeway, 3900 N. Market St., after a citizen called in about 6:30 p.m.

"Thank you Spokane for helping YOUR police department keep you safe!" Spokane police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe said in a news release.

Blair already was facing felony theft and drug charges when police identified him as a suspect in Nov. 17 thefts at the Davenport Hotel, which occurred as the Tri-State Grain Growers convened at the upscale hotel in downtown Spokane. Read more here.

DeRuwe identified Blair Wednesday as one of four repeat offenders whose arrests “would have a positive impact on our crime trends.”

The others are Christopher C. McCracken, who was sentenced last month to 12 months in jail for violating a protection order and is wanted by the Department of Corrections; Christopher J. Searight, 29, who is wanted for not paying his fines on felony convictions from 2004, and Shaun P. Davis, 39, who is wanted by the DOC.

See their photos at the Spokane Police Department's Facebook page.

Man wanted for stealing from Davenport

UPDATE: Blair was booked into jail about 8 p.m. Jan. 11.

Police say a longtime felon dressed in casual business clothes to blend in while stealing laptops from a convention at the Davenport Hotel. 

Sean Alexander Blair, 31, already was facing felony theft and drug charges when police identified him as a suspect in the Nov. 17 thefts, which occurred as the Tri-State Grain Growers convened at the upscale hotel in downtown Spokane.

Surveillance video shows Blair enter the hotel without a backpack about 8 p.m. without a backpack, according to court documents. It then shows him leave a half hour later carrying a backpack that was reported stolen from the convention. The backpack contained a Dell laptop. Another laptop also was reported stolen from a backpack at the convention.

Colfax farmer Randy Seuss, chairman of the U.S. Wheat Associates, said he saw a man matching Blair's description about 8:20 p.m. in the convention, according to court documents. He noticed the man did not have an event identification badge and was picking up handouts from display booths.

Detective Crystal Jolly was familiar with Blair from thefts of laptops at local hospitals and the Gonzaga University library. Blair always carries the stolen computers in backpacks, she said.

Blair was out of jail waiting trial on seven felony charges for those thefts and an unrelated methamphetamine charge when the heists at the Davenport occurred.

Now he faces a $20,000 warrant for two new counts of second-degree theft, and no-bond warrants for the previous cases because he violated his conditions of release by allegedly committing new crimes.

Spokane police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe identified Blair today as one of four repeat offenders whose arrests "would have a positive impact on our crime trends."

The others are Christopher C. McCracken, who was sentenced last month to 12 months in jail for violating a protection order and is wanted by the Department of Corrections; Christopher J. Searight, 29, who is wanted for not paying his fines on felony convictions from 2004, and Shaun P. Davis, 39, who is wanted by the DOC.

See their photos at the Spokane Police Department's Facebook page.

Video shows suspect in GU law caper

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Here's a news release from Sgt. Dave Reagan:

Detectives are seeking the public’s help to identify a woman who stole a laptop computer from the Gonzaga Law Library.

Security video shows the thief (in front) entering the library with a child and a female companion about 7 p.m. on June 21.  Detectives also want to identify the second female.

Witnesses saw the lead female near the laptop which had been left on a table top.  No one in the library at the time recognized the thief as a student, and when she quickly exited the library carrying a backpack, one witness followed her.

The witness saw her retrieve the child and leave in a maroon or burgundy “American-looking” four-door car, according to police.

Gonzaga security staff was able to locate video of the suspect, the child and companion as they entered the library.  The white female suspect is in the lead and was described as between 35 and 39 years old, 5’03” tall and 180 pounds..

Anyone with information about either woman’s identity is asked to contact Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.
  

CdA man, 25, gets 5 years for child porn

A Coeur d'Alene man who downloaded child pornography and shared it with other Internet users has been sentenced to five years in federal prison.

 Scott Tyler Aresvik, 25, also is to pay $1,750 in restitution to a child identified in one of the nine pornographic images and 91 videos found on his computer after investigators searched his home in Coeur d'Alene on Dec. 15, 2009, according to a sentence imposed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Coeur d'Alene.

The investigation began when the Shoshone County Sheriff's Office learned Aresvik's computer was making child pornography available for download on the Internet.

Aresvik pleaded guilty to possessing sexually explicit images of minors in March after a grand jury indicted him in January. His plea requires him to forfeit his computer and electronic storage equipment.

Aresvik told FBI agents he'd been downloading child pornography for about one year, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. In addition to 60 months in prison, he'll be on probation for 10 years.

“Individuals who use the Internet to access, view and share child pornography mistakenly believe their anonymity will protect them,” Wendy Olson, U.S. Attorney for Idaho, said in a prepared statement. “Federal, state and local law enforcement are committed to working together with prosecutors to identify and prosecute these individuals. We will continue to use every available tool to apprehend and convict them.”

More information is available at  www.projectsafechildhood.gov.

Arrest in ‘This Guy Has My MacBook’

By SUDHIN THANAWALA, Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The images began arriving in Joshua Kaufman's inbox. The grainy photos are low-lit and intimate: a man curled up on a couch, sound asleep; the same man propped up against pillows on a bed, shirtless.

 Who was this stranger sitting with Kaufman's stolen laptop?

 The Oakland resident collected the images and took them to police, who did not help him. So he went online, publishing the pictures on Twitter and in a blog titled "This Guy Has My MacBook."

 "People who followed me on Twitter retweeted it. It got picked up by social media and the press. It went super viral," he said. On the same day that he posted his website on Twitter, police came calling.

Police on Tuesday arrested a 27-year-old cab driver, Muthanna Aldebashi. On Wednesday, Kaufman picked up his laptop from the police.

Kaufman said he was "surprised and amazed" when he began receiving images of the man using his laptop.

Kaufman's case is the latest example of people, not police, using technological tools to help find their own stolen property such as cars, cell phones and digital cameras.

Kaufman had just moved to a new apartment in Oakland when a burglar broke in, taking the laptop, a bag, an electronic book reader, and a bottle of gin on March 21. He activated theft-tracking software he had installed, which began sending photos taken by the computer's built-in camera of the unauthorized user three days later.

"I wasn't sure if it would work because I never tested it before," he said. Most of the images "were honestly really boring photos — people staring into the screen. But some were definitely more humorous."

Among them was a screenshot of the man logging onto his Gmail account, which showed an email that appeared to include the name of a business, Kaufman said. A quick Internet search revealed it was a cab company in nearby Berkeley, which Kaufman assumed was the man's workplace.

Kaufman submitted the information to police, but said they were unwilling to help and didn't respond to numerous follow-up emails.

"I know a stolen computer is small in the larger scheme but it would be nice to feel like you actually cared," he tweeted three days after the break-in.

Kaufman said he turned to the Internet because he became "frustrated and thought I should try and get some attention from the media." He posted some of the photos (two are pictured), including captions such as "I really don't want to know what this guy is doing with my MacBook" for the image of the shirtless man in bed.

Kaufman said he received a call from Oakland police spokeswoman Holly Joshi on the day he included a link to his blog. Joshi said she first heard about the case after receiving calls from media outlets Tuesday.

"From that point on, they seemed to be on my side completely," he said of police. "They were apologetic, and they continually told me that they would be doing something about it immediately."

Joshi blamed the large volume of theft reports Oakland police receive — about 2,400 a month for three theft investigators — and human oversight for the department's failure to follow up on Kaufman's leads.

"It was filed away," Joshi said. "It had leads, so it shouldn't have been filed away."

Police arranged a cab ride from Aldebashi and nabbed him when they recognized his face, according to Kaufman. Aldebashi was being held in an Oakland jail on $20,000 bail, according to the Alameda County sheriff's office.

The laptop's return was the culmination of a one-man crusade of online sleuthing, social networking and moments of voyeuristic creepiness aided by the software called Hidden.

The software — part LoJack, part nanny cam — is equipped with location positioning software. A representative for the product's London-based developer, Flipcode Ltd., did not immediately respond to emails from The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Many portable electronics, including some digital cameras, are now equipped with wireless Internet capability and automatic geographic tagging on any photo taken — a helpful tool when trying to see where a thief has been hanging out. It's a step beyond the LoJack system invented two decades earlier that emitted a signal from a stolen vehicle.

Joshi said investigators did not know whether Aldebashi burglarized Kaufman's apartment, noting that stolen merchandise often changes hands. Aldebashi was scheduled to be arraigned Friday.

Electronics stolen from Valley church

Here's a news release from Sgt. Dave Reagan:  

A thief broke into a Spokane Valley church sometime between Wednesday night and 5 p.m. Saturday and stole several thousand dollars worth of electronic equipment.

The pastor at Valley Landmark Mission, 9021 E. Boone, told Officer Mark Benner that the congregation held a service Wednesday night and that all of the stolen property was stored in the electronic storage room that night.

When a cleaning crew arrived about 5 p.m. Saturday, they discovered the room pillaged and several items missing.  The stolen property included a Canon HD camcorder, an Acer laptop computer and two Phillips portable DVD players.

Benner found that the point of entry appeared to be a narrow window.  Anyone with information regarding the break-in is encouraged to call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.