$4.5 million outlay urged for Sevier County schools

Computers, infrastructure needed for Common Core
Jun. 21, 2013 @ 11:33 PM

The Sevier County Commission’s budget committee recommended the county obtain a capital outlay note to cover $4.5 million in new computers and infrastructure for county schools. The purchases are needed for training in the Common Core curriculum.

After quite a bit of cutting, the $4.5-million expenditure was the only expenditure that didn’t fit in the school’s revenues, Director of Schools Jack Parton said. The funds will be used to pay for new computers that will help students keep up with technology standards included in the new curriculum.

Common Core is a set of educational benchmarks being adopted throughout most of the United States, designed to ensure that high school graduates from any school in the nation meet similar standards. It includes testing the ability of students to use technology.

School systems are being warned to start seeing technology purchases as a recurring expense, rather than a one-time capital expenditure, said Karen King, director of finance for the school system.

Tennessee adopted the Common Core curriculum in 2009. It has been adopted by 45 other states, as well as the District of Columbia. It’s intended to raise standards nationwide for teaching math and English, as well as other skills.

A new assessment process is about to get underway, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and careers. Tennessee is one of 21 states taking part in PARCC.

Starting in the fall of 2014, PARCC will be used to assess grades 3-11.

The test is completed entirely online, and the schools need more than 2,600 new computers to be ready for the tests.

Their research shows they don’t have the equipment or infrastructure needed to implement PARCC in 2014. They need to have it for the coming school year to practice, officials said.

In K-8, they recommend having enough to test the two largest grade levels at the same time.

For high schools and elementary, intermediate and middle schools, they recommend having enough testing computers to test all students in the largest grade level at the same time.

The breakdown includes 89 wireless labs that would have 30 laptops each, at a cost $34,000 per lab. It also includes the new infrastructure needed to serve them.

Schools will have to hire new personnel — three more technicians, an network administrator and five technology staff development trainers.

The $4.5 million expense would be paid for using a capital outlay note. For the upcoming budget year, the school system will need to pay for the interest on the note, but after that it will have to start paying down the principal, officials said. They hope to see an increase in tax revenues to help cover that cost, especially with the planned youth sports complex in Gatlinburg opening.

Outside of that, all county departments managed to meet their budgets. The county isn’t planning a tax increase this year, and had the money to give a 1.5 percent raise to employees. School employes will get the same raise

Road Superintendent Jonas Smelcer said his employees will be getting the pay hike as well, and the operating revenues will be used for the usual resurfacing and other projects.

The county commission will review the budget at its regular meeting Monday.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com