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Repairs, high-tech projects wait for federal funding
Schools ready to use new technology will get it first, Schofield says
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Hall County Board of Education members rolled out plans for repairing schools and completing projects at a retreat Saturday, but whether funds will be there to see them through still was in question.

“Every dream that we have has to belong to somebody. Somebody has to have the time, the staff and the resources to pull it off,” Superintendent Will Schofield said. “I’m telling you we’re at the tipping point. We can’t ask many more people to pull off these dreams.”

Despite concerns over state funding, the board discussed plans to continue adding technology in schools, looking to provide more than $1.2 million for more than 900 new teacher laptops and $1.6 million in TV and projection equipment through SPLOST revenues.

“We’ve got to be wise and put these resources in schools where faculty are ready to take these tools and run,” Schofield said.

In that sense, all schools will not be treated equally. Only those whose staff demonstrate a willingness to incorporate new equipment into the classroom will be likely to see new technology.

“We’ve gotta get rid of the mentality of if we give it to one place, we’ve got to give it everyone,” Schofield said. “No, we don’t. We’ve gotta stick this technology strategically in places that are ready to use it.”

But projects that were dependent on funding from a federal bond program, such as equipping all schools with wireless Internet access and videoconferencing tools, may be put on hold if funding does not come through.

Qualified School Construction Bonds were included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to allow states to support schools looking to add equipment and repair schools.

The state may have trouble supplying funds for the bonds to districts such as Hall County, which applied last year. The board may not find out until this spring whether money will be available.

“We’re not sure we’re gonna get QSCB money,” Schofield said.

As a result, Lanier Charter Career Academy’s future is at a standstill. The $2.8 million expansion of the academy was one of five in the state to earn grants from the Technical College System of Georgia.

The school district was supposed to receive about $3.2 million in grant money but it was downsized to $2.8 million due to budget cuts. The district now has about $650,000 worth of work left to complete the school, including adding technology components that board members said were essential to its operation. Doors are set to open in August, but without additional QSCB or SPLOST funding, it may not happen.

“We have a fully functioning building, but the bells and the whistles for what we dreamed about just aren’t there yet,” Schofield said.

Despite not knowing exactly where all funding would come from, the board approved about $2.9 million plans to push forward in its facilities repair and equipment plans.

Additional classrooms and a replacement for the aged septic system at East Hall High School were approved, along with a new kitchen for Wauka Mountain Elementary’s culinary arts program and new HVAC systems for Da Vinci Academy. North Hall High is also set add more restrooms and East Hall High may build a new field house.

Despite a gloomy budget outlook, Schofield maintained that now was not the time to hold back on adding technology.

“It’s an incredible opportunity we’re sitting on to reinvent schooling (with technology),” he said. The days of traditional teacher-led classrooms are coming to an end and digital books and online classes will continue to be incorporated, he said.

Some Hall County schools already offer videoconferencing classes that link students to teachers who teach from other school sites.
Schofield also said the district should not expect large waves of layoffs.

“In terms of the weeping and gnashing of teeth we had last year, unless we get a huge shock, we’re in pretty good shape,” he said.

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