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Commissioners Approve Nearly $300K in CIP Reserve Funds for WCS 1:1 Initiative

By Jesse Wood

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners approved a request for Watauga County Schools to release nearly $300,000 from the county’s capital improvement plan reserve to fund the education system’s 1:1 technology initiative for the 17-18 school year.

The commissioners met on Tuesday morning.

The technology program puts a laptop in the hands of each student in between the 8th and 12th grades. For the 6th and 7th grades, that ratio is 2 to 1.

Now that the school system is about finished with a three-year, $1.9 million lease with Hewlett Packard, WCS has been negotiating with vendors. WCS Supt. Scott Elliott, who inherited the current leasing plan, told commissioners that it looks more financially prudent to purchase 2,100 student devices, perhaps Google Chromebooks by Lenovo, rather than leasing based on the latest price points.

According to an eight-year budget plan included in the commissioner’s meeting packet, the 1:1 initiative funding will be $677,034 in ‘17-18, $237,758 in ‘18-19; and $241,601 in ‘19-20. It pretty much levels on out from there as devices begin to be “refreshed” on a 25 percent cycle. See more numbers below.

The 1:1 initiative will be expanded into 4th and 5th grades in ‘18-19 and 2nd and 3rd grades in ’20-21, according to the plan.

At its next meeting on Monday, the Watauga County Board of Education will throw in the remaining $386,784 to fund next year’s 1:1 program for students, which will cost – as previously mentioned – $677,034.

A memo from WCS to the commissioners about the request reads, “To meet the needs of the 21st century learner, we must ensure students are prepared to thrive in a world that demands collaboration, innovative thinking, and adaptability. Technology continues to play a vital role in meeting these needs.”

Not quite a third ($13,265,400 million + capital outlay) of Watauga County Schools ‘16-17 budget comes out of Watauga County’s budget. The state is providing $25.3 million in funds for the upcoming year. See budget resolution here.

After listening to Elliott’s presentation, Commissioner Billy Kennedy said, “It’s what we have to do, finagle and squeeze these budgets tight to get the stuff we need. Technology is so important for the future of these children. We need to make sure it is there.”

Commissioner Perry Yates motioned to approve the request, which received unanimous approval from the five-member board.

In December, the school board approved a 10-year CIP plan, which found that $78 million will be needed over the next 10 years, primarily for school renovations and replacements. The results were based on an architectural review of all but the three newest schools (WHS, Cove Creek and Mabel).