By MARINA WATERS
Budget season isn’t for another four months, but the Washington County Department of Education came with funding requests at the ready at the Washington County Commission’s Health Education and Welfare Committee meeting on Nov. 30.
The committee approved all three funding requests from WCDE Finance Director Brad Hale, totaling $383,500. Of that was $166,000 for Clear Touch panels and stands.
WCDE Director of Technology Curtis Fullbright said Clear Touch and ViewSonic panels are currently in second and third grade classrooms. The requested $166,000 would provide the panels in first grade classrooms as well.
“I think our early usage of those indicates that they’re really doing a great job for us,” said Tom Krieger, commissioner and committee chairman. “I hope that carries through with being in all the first three grades. It can be very instrumental in what happens moving forward. It can get pretty expensive, but sometimes you’ve got to do that.”
The $166,000 request is separate from the projected $640,000 currently in the budget for school system technology. Hale explained the amount already set aside by the county will be used to provide each Washington County junior with a Chromebook.
The committee, however, had concerns regarding possible damages to the technology; Commissioner Suzy Williams asked if the school system would allow the Chromebooks to go home with students or if they would remain at the schools.
“There are a lot of pros and cons to it,” Fullbright said. “The mission is to use these devices in the way we all used textbooks when we were in school. These are something that can be taken home to be used for homework.”
Meanwhile, Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said he’s hoping for more information on how implemented technology has and can improve student outcomes.
“I’ve been a big advocate of this. Anything that we can do to leverage technology and be more effective in the classroom, we’ve got to do,” Eldridge said. “But I would love for there to be some kind of measurable come out of this. We have just begun in this program and we have already spent millions.
“From my perspective, which only counts for nine more months, the way to perpetuate this technology in our school system is to be able to validate the improvement in results from it.”
Aside from technology, WCDE also requested $137,000 for resource libraries at each Washington County School.
WCDE Director of Elementary Education Karla Kyte said the libraries would serve as a place for teachers to check out a class set of books. She also said the centers could cut down on the number of books the school system would need to purchase.
“Instead of buying resources for every teacher for, say, second grade,” Kyte said, “you’d buy one set of certain social studies books or science books that the teachers then would go to the book room and check out — instead of having to have six different sets at Jonesborough Elementary School for second grade teachers for example.”
This isn’t the first time the county’s exercised the idea of adding book rooms to the school system; Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said the proposal for the resource libraries made it to a previous budget committee meeting, but there was a “break down in the process” of getting one-time funding for it from the state and fitting it into the county’s budget.
The final portion of the school system’s requests was $80,000 for audit consultation fees.
Hale said additional expenses arose during the time of closing with auditors Blackburn, Childers & Steagall and as the county attorney has had to consult BCS since then. He also said their budget has an allotted $20,000 for such fees but that because it was the first year the county used state auditors, a “great decrease” in costs was expected.
“The story with this is that we didn’t anticipate quite the audit expense that we’ve incurred,” Hale said. “So that was therefore not considered in our original budget this year … It was a variety of items that caused this.”
The approved requests will next be discussed by the commission’s budget committee. The next budget committee meeting will take place on Wednesday, Dec. 6 at 9 a.m. in the conference room on the first floor of the Historic Courthouse located at 105 E Main St., Jonesborough.