Worcester Seeks More School Tech Funding

SNOW HILL — The Worcester County Commissioners agreed this week to submit a proposal for $400,000 worth of funding to the state with the request it be considered one-time non-recurring and not part of the Maintenance of Effort (MoE) funding the county owes the Board of Education annually. At the same meeting, the commissioners also agreed to at least meet MoE funding for the board next year.

Half of the $400,000 proposal will be for new student computer tablets, which will be used in next year’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test.

“With the restraints of budgets in the past several years, we are interested in providing greater access for our students to technology, through the purchase of tablets that may be used for the new PARCC assessments that go along with the Common Core standards as well as for classroom use,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson.

Commissioner Virgil Shockley asked if those tablets are intended to be used with a new broadband Internet system that has been in the works since last year but is not yet in place.

“We’re continuing to work with the broadband,” said Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Dr. John Gaddis. “The tablets also will work with our present infrastructure with the Wi-Fi that’s been set up as well to help us prepare for the PARCC assessments. The broadband we’re still working on trying to find who we can buy service from. We’ve made some more phone calls. That’s a weekly journey that we’re on with the state with the grants for who actually owns and can provide the service.”

Though the tablets will work with the current Internet system, Gaddis told the commission that an eventual upgrade to broadband would make the tablets “enhanced dramatically with speed and presentation” regarding the PARCC.

Also in the realm of technology, Wilson requested $100,000 of non-recurring funding for a school business systems software upgrade.

“With the current system, it does not allow comparability for budget purposes and does not allow close planning, and analysis except through developing projects staff must support,” Wilson said.

The final request was for an additional $100,000 to complete the architectural and engineering feasibility study for Showell Elementary School (SES). Wilson reminded the commission that the school has been on deck for renovation or replacement for years.

“The current facility is not adequate to accommodate the current enrollment and programs,” he said, adding that there are presently nine portable classrooms at the site. SES was built in 1976 with additions attached in 1990.

The commission won’t make a final decision to approve or deny the $400,000 until their budget is completed this spring. However, they did at least agree to forward the requests to the state level since approval for funding to be labeled “non-recurring” and not be included in the school’s MoE hinges on authorization from the Maryland State Department of Education.

With next year’s calculated MoE, which mandates the same amount of per-pupil spending as the previous year, the commissioners did agree to at least fund the minimum which would be an increase of $23,186 from last year. While meeting that minimum is required, Wilson warned the commission that only reaching MoE would have a negative impact on schools.

“As we have discussed, funding at this level would not allow the school system to maintain current programs, provide employee salary increases, or increase resources for technology,” he said.

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