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Apple tries to recover in the classroom

Though dropped from a school program in Virginia, Apple lines up a deal to sell as many as 63,000 iBook computers to a Georgia school district.

Apple Computer announced on Monday that it will sell as many as 63,000 iBook computers to a Georgia school district in one of the company's largest education deals ever.

The sale is part of a new program, which, as previously reported, will provide 17,000 iBook G4 laptops this fall to all teachers in the Cobb County School District, as well as to students at four of the district's high schools.

Apple still needs school board approval to enter the second and third phases of the district's program, called "Power to Learn." If approval is granted, Apple would eventually equip all students in the district with an iBook G4 laptop, bringing its sales total for the program to 63,000 computers.

As Apple has discovered, however, school districts treat prospective large-scale purchases gingerly, and sometimes unpredictably.

Last week in Richmond, Va., for example, the school board of Henrico County Public Schools voted to buy from Dell and drop its Apple one-to-one laptop program, which allows schools to buy a laptop for every student in a particular grade. The school board cited "maintenance, technical support, software and price" as the factors behind its decision.

Back in 2001, HCPS agreed to purchase 23,000 iBooks--one of Apple's largest education deals at the time. Under the phased-in four-year lease program, the school district was expected to pay $18.4 million over the first two years. But as Henrico's four-year contract came up for renewal, the district opted out of Apple's program.

Apple, which once dominated the education market, has been losing out to a number of Windows-based competitors such as Dell.

Despite its setback with HCPS, Apple's one-to-one sales strategy has paid off in many cases. School districts in Maine, where every seventh- and eighth-grader throughout the state now has an iBook, and other school districts have signed up for the program.

Apple did not have an immediate comment regarding HCPS' decision to discontinue the one-to-one program.

Addressing the Cobb County deal, Timothy Cook, Apple executive vice president of worldwide sales and operations, said in a statement: "School districts across the country have improved student achievement with the help of Apple's one-to-one solutions, and this ambitious project will give Cobb County students a tremendous academic advantage."

Cobb County school officials, however, say they were aware of the problems at the Henrico school district and took that into consideration when developing their requirements for the four PC makers that bid on the project.

"We wrote into our (bid requirements) more rigorous support and training provisions," said Jay Dillion, a spokesman for the Cobb County school district. "We also required Apple to pre-load Office on all our iBooks. That was one problem Henrico faced. They didn't have Office and wanted it."