12/08/09 — Duplin will spend $757,000 on school repair

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Duplin will spend $757,000 on school repair

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on December 8, 2009 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE - Duplin County Schools may use $727,000 in local funding to upgrade and repair the county schools' technological infrastructure, the Duplin County Board of Commissioners decided Monday.

The money, already budgeted to the schools as capital reserve, is integral to keeping the schools' connectivity and accessibility running, said Dawn Craft, the schools' director of technology and media.

"There is no part of teaching and learning in Duplin County schools that is not affected by technology," she said.

More than 200 of the school system's 250 network switches are outdated and are no longer covered by warranty, and the schools also need new surge protector switches for the computer systems.

Without the updates, "we're kind of living on a wing and a prayer," Ms. Craft said.

Ms. Craft and Chief Finance Officer for Duplin County Schools Joann Hartley appeared before the board to provide details on the cost and reasons behind the proposed technology project.

The switches for the network operations cost approximately $1,500 each, and four of the system's 18 servers have a "desperate need" for climate control, which will cost about $10,000 per server, Ms. Craft estimated.

Of the 9,500 computers in the school system, including desktops and laptops in classrooms, computer labs and offices, some are nearly nine years old and many are nearing the end of the warranty life. It will cost $389 to renew the warranties through the end of the year, and under the warranty, the Dell computer company will help diagnose problems and send replacement parts to fix issues at no additional cost, Ms. Craft said.

However, the schools were not asking for all new computers, only ways to extend the life of the ones they have, she added.

The money will likely also be used to pursue wireless capability at all Duplin County schools.

"We want every school to have wireless capability," Ms. Craft said.

A laptop for every teacher, laptop carts for classrooms to share and other ways to work around the need for electrical rewiring at schools like E.E. Smith Middle School, which is "maxed out on electricity," could save money in the long run, she said.

The schools have smart boards and other equipment, but the $727,000 will be used for infrastructure improvements.

"Without that backbone to run it, all of that is really for nothing," Ms. Craft said.

The commissioners discussed the issue briefly before voting on it.

"I concur it should be done. The question comes up, who should it (the money) come from?" Commissioner David Fussell asked.

The schools could use some of the Board of Education's fund balance to pay for it, he said.

"If you've got supplies monies you should use it first," Fussell said.

But the school system is required to have a fund balance, and does not have a way to borrow money the way the county government could in the event of an emergency, Ms. Hartley said.

"What we're really doing here is a trade-off," she said.

The Board of Education previously requested to use the money to pay janitorial staff salaries, but voted to pay the employees using fund balance money instead after the commissioners turned down the measure.

Board Chairman Cary Turner said he would like reassurance that the Board of Education will use the money for the stated purpose.

"I'm not ready to trust yet," he said.

But Ms. Hartley did "everything we've asked you, and I want to thank you," Commissioner Reginald Wells said. Wells made a motion to approve the request. The commissioners must move on from its past history with the Board of Education, and the school board should not have to sign anything proving their intent, he said.

"We need to quit this power play and do what's right," he said.

Members also voted to select a chairman for the next term. In the absence of a deciding vote, Commissioner Cary Turner will remain the board chairman for another year and Frances Parks will serve as vice chairman.

The commissioners voted 3-3 on a motion made by Fussell to retain Turner as the chairman. The board members voted 4-2 to select Ms. Parks as vice chairman.

The vote sparked discussion of board policy regarding the selection.

The "mutual understanding" for the last 25 years has been to go by district, Ms. Williams noted. Going by district, Ms. Parks would have been next in line to serve as board chairman.

Turner commented that the commissioners have reached a tie vote on several issues lately.

"Maybe we need to consider an odd number of commissioners," he said.

In other business, commisioners approved the purchase of a new ambulance for the county EMS.