Just two days after roughly 200 people visited them for their budget public hearing, the Hanover County School Board held its first full work session Jan. 24 to explore details of the $188.7 million 2013-14 budget proposal.
The Thursday crowd was considerably sparser. This meeting was exclusively for the board and staff to deliberate on the budget amongst themselves. Discussion lasted for about two and a half hours, and no votes were taken.
They devoted a chunk of time to technology.
Dr. Jamelle Wilson, superintendent of schools, said staff would compile an inventory of the technology currently available at each school.
The level of technology varies between facilities. Liberty Middle School, for example, has been partnering with a private foundation that has donated Smart Boards and iPads, which may not be present at all other facilities.
She referred to a comment a Patrick Henry High School teacher made at the public hearing, in which he stated his classroom has dropped from five desktop computers to one.
Wilson noted that there are now laptops available at the high schools that can move between classrooms.
“The model has changed,” Wilson said. “Should our technology be more mobile, or should it be hard-wired? And that’s, from an instructional perspective, the conversation we continue to have.”
Glenn Millican, the board’s Mechanicsville representative, agreed that there is a move toward mobility. Stationary equipment, such as desktops, should not “even be in the universe of consideration.”
The School Board last year enacted a policy governing the use of student-owned electronic devices in the classroom.
“I was a big proponent, and still am, of students bringing their own equipment. Most of their equipment is far better than what we offer. … That is what people use in the real world,” Millican said.
“This is school. We ought to be teaching and using what is at the forefront, not all this stuff that they’ll never see again,” he added.
Dr. Daryl Chesley, assistant superintendent for instructional leadership, mentioned that the technology the schools provide need to support state testing requirements
“There needs to be a level of safety and security involved with that and accessibility for students, and oftentimes a tablet doesn’t have that functionality,” he said.
Hank Lowry, Ashland board representative, asked if staff had received feedback from teachers regarding the new policy that allows students to use personal devices.
Wilson said it was too early for a formal survey, as the policy has been in place less than a year, but she has heard anecdotal feedback.
“What we hear is that it is making a difference. Certainly it is a convenience,” she said.
A formal survey would be more appropriate at the end of this year or early next school year.
Millican suggested exploring the possibility of shifting $1 million budgeted for bus replacements toward new technology, which he said still wouldn’t cover the system’s technological needs.
“That’s why I had suggested that we may need to at least consider asking the Board of Supervisors to consider legislation that would provide additional revenue for technology. The first step would be for us to vote to dedicate that money that’s in the budget for buses to technology as a good-faith start to get that program going,” he explained
John Axselle, the board’s Beaverdam representative, emphasized the importance of first assessing the status of the bus fleet.
“Tomorrow morning, when it’s 15 degrees and there’s 15 children standing on the corner and that bus doesn’t show up, no one’s going to care about technology,” Axselle said.
Robert Wood, the board’s Cold Harbor representative, said that lengthening the life of buses would result in additional maintenance costs, adding, “I think we can get some more miles out of a lot of buses.”
Millican discussed the proposal to extend high school schedules to eight class periods and have teachers instruct six of eight periods rather than their current five of seven.
He stressed that one size would not fit all. They should consider variables such as the amount of preparation that goes into a specific class, the capabilities of the students, whether or not the teacher has taught the course before, and the overall difficulty of the subject matter.
“I’m not sure there is a magic number,” Millican added. “Probably some can teach six, and probably some should be teaching four.”
Based on his interpretation of public comments, he said Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses appear to be the ones that would benefit from additional time.
If teachers take on additional courses, they should be compensated for it, he said.
“I’d like to get some numbers on the table and find out what the costs are. … I believe that we could probably find money in the budget to do this, although it will be extremely tight. We may not be able to, but I have confidence that we can at least find part of it,” Millican said.
Bob Hundley, the board’s Chickahominy representative, had observed earlier in the meeting, “There is a certain amount of value associated with the six of eight decision. If, for whatever reason, that is decided that we don’t want to go in that direction, that amount of deduction to the budget will still be required.”
Millican commented, “Over half of the people in the county do not have children in school, but yet they are supporting it, and I think in a republic, we have to be mindful of the opinions of all, the majority and the minority. …
“I don’t have an agenda to push, but I have items that I think are important to have a public conversation about.”
The School Board is scheduled to hold another budget work session tonight, Jan. 31, at 6 p.m. at the School Board Office.