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Jackson County schools delay white boards to stay in the black
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JEFFERSON — When Gum Springs Elementary School opened in 2008, teachers had access to some of the latest instructional technology in their classrooms.

The other seven elementary schools in the county, however, lag behind in offering the same technology to their students.

"When we build new schools, we equip them with the very best and newest technology we can afford to buy, but that creates equity issues between new and old schools," said Superintendent Shannon Adams. "We think we have come up with a good solution."

This issue was brought before the Jackson County Board of Education at last week’s meeting, but the board decided to wait to make any decisions about adding new technology to classrooms until members have a better understanding of the system’s budget.

The board heard from David Peek, director of instructional technology, and Keith Everson, assistant superintendent for support services, about adding 190 new SMART boards to classrooms in seven elementary schools in Jackson County.

SMART boards are interactive white boards that connect to a teacher’s computer, allowing them to project Web sites and other presentation tools to students in a more compelling fashion than a regular white board, according to the company’s Web site.

Peek said Adams and Everson came to him with a plan to install the boards in elementary schools over a four-year period, but the plan was not feasible in the end, he said.

"With the budget situation the way it is now and the way it’s probably going to be for the next year or two, that just was no longer an option. But we still realized it was something we needed to do quickly rather than four or five years down the road," he said.

Peek said that he, Adams and Everson came up with a plan that would get the boards in classrooms faster. They proposed at the meeting to start installing them in February or March and finish putting them in all classrooms by the fall of this year, using Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenues to pay for the expenditure.

To install the 190 SMART boards in the schools, the district would pay $630,000 altogether for purchasing and installing.

Twenty-five percent of the total sales tax revenues would go toward installation and maintenance on the boards, while the other 75 percent of revenues would go toward future construction projects, Everson said.

"By the end of the summer, we should have generated enough revenue to complete this project," Everson said.

Chairwoman Kathy Wilbanks brought up the possible hitch in the plan: What if revenues drop significantly and the school system can’t afford the boards?

"Some schools might not get them right away ... or if we had to, we could pull some money from future construction projects," Everson said.

Though revenues have fluctuated from month to month, they have stayed at about $450,000 or above each month, he said.

The sales tax collections from November and December aren’t all in yet, which are generally the highest revenue generating months in the school calendar, said Sarah Green, personnel director for the school system.

School officials also discussed the benefits of having technology that would keep students engaged in learning.

April Howard, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said she shared the board’s budgetary concerns but noted the technology would bring other benefits, including saving money on consumable materials that could be found electronically and keeping students interested in class.

"You just can’t exchange that engagement in learning," she said.

"It’s so compelling with how good they are with the kids," Adams added, reiterating curriculum specialist Kathy Miller’s presentation at the board’s work session about making students more engaged in learning.

After further discussion, the board unanimously agreed to wait to approve the expenditure for the SMART boards until the February meeting, when members have had more time to look at the funding mechanism for the boards.

"We want to be careful that we’re looking at every angle of this," Wilbanks said. "I don’t want to put us in a bind."