Tennessee School District Returns Funds for Ed Tech

Maury County Public Schools approved the increase in tech funding after cutting back last year in an effort to keep more than 50 teaching jobs. Despite a significant increase in enrollment, the budget has not kept pace.

by Mike Christen The Daily Herald / March 28, 2019
Shutterstock

(TNS) — Maury County Public Schools have approved the use of more than $500,000 to continue providing each student with a digital device. The program was frozen in this year's budget.

The MCPS school board approved a $586,000 in budget amendments to continue a lease program on devices through April and May of 2020, putting an end to a ticking clock on the district. The funds will keep more than 3,000 devices in the school district, which were up for a lease renewal this spring.

"I am glad the board is continuing to invest in technology and digital education," Superintendent Chris Marczak said. "It shows we are moving forward into the 21st century. We are continuing to move forward with technology and enriching our students' education."

During the same meeting held Monday, the board also approved an additional on time $330,000 expenditure to the 2019-20 capital budget to expand the program with additional devices.

The budget proposal will require approval from the Maury County Commission, but they will also for two out of every three students to receive a device from the school district.

With the completions of Battle Creek Middle and Elementary School this August, Marczak said the school district will be asking for a lot from its funding body — the county commission.

Commission Chair Don Morrow previously said school funding will continue to be one of the toughest hurdles for the county as it continues to see unprecedented growth.

"We need to keep our education system where it needs to be so we can continue to draw business to the area," Morrow said.

With an estimated population of more than 92,000 residents, the county has grown by more than 25,000 in the past 20 years, making it the 16th-largest in the state.

The school board chose to cease funding the DIPLOMA program last summer to keep more than 50 teaching jobs in the district, increase wages and maintain the school system's benefit plan for employees.

Cutting DIPLOMA saved the board $1,097,610 including the cancellation of a $300,000 order for more laptops and $138,800 for the tools and positions that came with the effort.

Additional learning software, including NextLesson, Dreambox, TenMarks and myON, all used by students both in the classroom and at home to practice reading and arithmetic, were also cut, along with $348,000 in tools from Discovery Education, a deal that provided students with web-based reference materials and teachers with connection to a global network of educators.

The approved spending did not appear to include funds for these programs.

"This move shows potential businesses and families that the school district cares and is working to better prepare students for life college and career," Marczak continued.

Following the decision to cut the program, school board member Donna Morency, who represents the greater Mt. Pleasant area, has been leading "re-energizing effort," composed of board members Chad Howell and Denny Beaver, school administrators, educators and county commissioners Don Morrow and Craig Harris.

"Everyone sees that we need to do this for the students and the community," Morency previously told The Daily Herald.

DIPLOMA — Digital Integration Plan for Learning on Mobile and Accessibility — set the precedent that each MCPS student in grades 3 and up would be given a laptop for both in and out of school work. The program, named by local students, launched in November 2016, just months after Marczak was hired to serve as the school district's new superintendent of schools.

Students in Mt. Pleasant became the first to receive laptops in May 2017, joined by schools across the county in the first half of 2018.

The program also saw concerns from county commissioners in April 2018, shortly after the release of a state audit which identified 15 discrepancies with the local school district.

The audit, released by the state reviewing the county's finances for the 2017, found that the school district failed to comply with state statutes when entering into lease agreements, including the purchase of 3,162 Lenovo laptop computers totaling $2,665,289.

At the time, then Chief Digital Learning and Innovation Officer John Carver, who has since left the district, said the district's leadership was taking steps to prevent any future issues.

The latest county audit, released by the state comptroller earlier this month, identified 11 findings other but reported the lease issue was corrected.

A total of 2,400 laptops were distributed to students and 800 devices were given to teachers. By spring 2018, all of the school district's campuses were upgraded with additional infrastructure to ensure that each student would have a speedy connection to the internet. Demand outgrew the number of devices acquired by the school district, with more teachers and classes passing the school district's internal certification process to be "DIPLOMA ready."

There are more than 12,000 students who attend Maury County Public Schools, taught by 900 certified teachers and assisted by 500 staff members.

©2019 The Daily Herald (Columbia, Tenn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Helping Young People Graduate and Thrive in the Future

The AT&T Aspire program aims to remove barriers to academic success and career growth and help all students — regardless of age, gender or income.

One Teacher’s Mission to Level the Playing Field

Workforce preparation efforts and strategies will only be successful if special attention is paid to the underprivileged and minority populations in schools.

How Collaboration in Education Can Change the Game

Working with industry, leading education organizations can further opportunities for students.

Platforms & Programs