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School system to receive up to $2 million

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

Chilton County Schools will receive up to $2,014,363 from surplus state revenues.

State revenues have been higher than projected, and the surplus is being divided among the state’s school systems based on average daily attendance.

During a work session on July 9, Superintendent Jason Griffin said there are restrictions on what the funds could be used for, and the list of specific projects must be approved by the state Superintendent of Schools. Chilton County Schools can apply for $2,014,363 and will receive the full amount if the State Superintendent approves all of the requested projects.

“This is going to take some things off the capital plan that have been there for several years,” Griffin said.

Griffin said the funds could be used for repairs and deferred maintenance on buildings, instructional supplies, school security, insuring facilities, transportation and technology equipment.

During the July 9 meeting, a list of requests was gathered from principals and department heads before presenting additional expensive items that will need to be addressed eventually.

“I have to submit an application to the state by Aug. 15 for them to sign off on us being able to move forward with these expenditures,” Griffin said.

Any project requiring board approval, such as contracted projects, would come back to the BOE during a voting session before it moved forward.

Principals at Verbena, Isabella, Jemison Intermediate and Maplesville each requested additional funds for textbooks. Griffin said this would be to close the gap between what the school receives each year and what is needed. Textbook funds can be used to purchase traditional paper books or textbooks accessed through a computer.

Funding SROs for one year ($289,295), creating an offsite backup to the school system’s server ($45,000), upgrading the wireless network for schools that have not been upgraded, beginning to replace outdated computers ($300,000) and various maintenance issues that are on the capital projects plan (totaling $1,065,000) were also discussed.

IT Specialist Nic Cardwell said the offsite backup to the computer server would be helpful in the event of a severe weather event or cyber attack at the site of the main server. Board member Keith Moore suggested the backup server be placed at one of the schools with a “safe hall.”

The request for funds to begin replacing electronic devices would be divided among all of the schools in the system.

“As we move into the future our Chromebooks and PCs are going to be outdated and need to be updated, so this is just a small start to try to make that happen,” Griffin said.

Cardwell explained that the operating system for the PCs will no longer be supported by Microsoft in 2020 and will not be able to download the latest security fixes and other upgrades. He said the devices are 5 to 7 years old.

Cardwell said Google will no longer support some of the Chromebooks the school system has in 2020.

“We did an inventory of our computers, and it is going to cost me $51,000 to replace the teacher computers that are not going to be compatible with Windows 10, and that is going to be before Jan. 1,” Isabella High School Principal Ricky Porter said. “On the Chromebooks, we have 27 Chromebook carts, and all of them will be obsolete in three years.”

He said about half of the school’s Chromebooks would be obsolete by next summer. Replacing all the devices that will be obsolete in three years would require $300,000.

“We (IHS) don’t have that kind of money,” Porter said. “Not through Title I technology and state technology, when you combine it all, we don’t have that kind of money.”

He said having updated technology was essential to preparing students for life after graduation.

“We don’t have to furnish them for every class,” board member Pam Price said.

Porter said he disagreed because then the school system would have to pick and choose which subjects used a computer.

Porter said schools are actually having to buy more computers than if the school system put policies in place for each student to have one Chromebook that is theirs and goes with them from class to class.

“We already have enough Chromebooks in my school for every student to have one, but we don’t have one-to-one policies,” Porter said.

Moore asked if the infrastructure could support one-to-one at every school.

Cardwell said the infrastructure could but the monitoring was not in place to filter websites if the student took devices home.

The Special Education Department also requested additional funds for teacher computers, interactive TVs and tilt tables to be used for teaching. Griffin said he cut the request to $100,000 in his presentation to the board.

Additional needs discussed included tracking for the school buses ($34,000 per year), updating school bus communications ($420,000), software to monitor websites used on school computers ($190,000 for a five-year contract), equipment to strip and wax school floors ($60,000 to purchase 12 machines) and replacing a sewer pumping station near LeCroy Career Technical Center ($200,000).

Board members said they wanted the tracking for the school buses, software to monitor websites used on school computers and the pumping station on the list.

Amounts requested may be changed to fit into the amount the school system can request.

The website monitoring software is similar to what is being used on the Chromebooks but would be compatible with all of the school system’s devices.

“If someone searches self-harm or suicide or some kind of pornography, it flags it and principals get an email with a screenshot, showing exactly what has been searched,” Cardwell said.

High school principals spoke in favor of having the software on every device. One principal said it led to them knowing about two students who were seriously contemplating suicide, and their parents were able to get them help.

The software would also allow the teacher to take over the screens in their classroom to take all the devices to the same website for class and see what students are viewing on their school-owned screens.

It will also help tech support by allowing them to remotely go into a teacher’s computer to work on technical issues.

During the bus discussion, Griffin said the school system had purchased bus tracking software previously, but the vendor did not work well for them.

Safe Schools Coordinator Mickey Hardwick said the proposed system would allow principals to access the routes, when it usually stops where, who is on what bus and whether it stopped at a particular house on a specific date.

Griffin said the cost for this technology has decreased greatly in the past few years.

“This has to happen in some form or fashion,” Griffin said.

During discussion about the pumping station, Price expressed concerns about the lack of paperwork on ownership of the pumping station since there were two houses that were also tied into it. Moore expressed concern about what would happen if the project was delayed.

An additional work session on upgrading the school bus communications is expected at some time in the future. There is an option to tie into the system that 911 is implementing.

After application is made for the funds to the state, CCS will be notified which projects are approved and which are not.