Today is Wednesday, August 16, 2017

County leaders reluctant to provide technology to schools

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Technology in schools was the hot topic of discussion at the May meeting of the Wilson County Commission on Monday night.

After originally granting the school system approximately $55 million for renovation projects at four elementary schools and the renovation of the former Lebanon High School to house Central Office staff and Adult Education, among other things, current estimates have exceeded the original estimates by more than $20 million which has led school leaders back to Wilson County Commission for more money.

Wilson County Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright was not present at the meeting due to a prior engagement to attend Mt. Juliet High School's graduation; however, Finance Director Aaron Maynard took to the podium to express his concerns and was met with feedback from several commissioners.

In the renovation plan for the schools, the system included a portion of that money for "technology."

The freshly-constructed Watertown High School and renovated Carroll-Oakland are two schools within the county which have provided each student with a learning device. In recent years, a plan was proposed to provide all Wilson County students with devices; however, that would mean upping taxes. That plan was voted down by commissioners in 2015.

Now it seems that the issue of placing devices in select schools is back on the table - as Southside Elementary, Tuckers Crossroads, Gladeville Elementary and West Elementary are considered for renovations - along with constructing a new school in Mt. Juliet.

Wright did say in a recent Education Committee meeting that the technology costs in the renovation budget were not part of the district's one-to-one technology initiative originally proposed which stated each student would be provided with a device.

Maynard said that while he was a good relationship with Wright and WCS Finance Director Mickey Hall, who he had not yet expressed his thoughts to, he was concerned over placing devices in student's hands using bond money.

"I am concerned we are being led against our will into a technology program we didn't approve of," he said, explaining that he isn't against advanced learning but that he fears in three years they will find themselves in a position where the devices are outdated or will need to be replaced.

Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto reminded commissioners that this was just a discussion and they were not voting on any resolution that night.

District 20 Commissioner Annette Stafford said she was "appalled" and that she had "not heard a single person say they want to reduce technology" before they sent it to School Board.

"Why do all this grandstanding now?" she asked.

Other voiced concerns were over the picking and choosing of schools. "Do you do without for 10 years just because you didn't get a renovation? You don't get a computer in all hands because you aren't needing of a renovation project."

District 9 Commissioner Sarah Patton gave the example of a parent with multiple children in multiple schools. "What if one has devices and the others do not?"

Some commissioners questioned if they had the authority to tell the School Board what they could spend county money on - to which District 15 Commissioner Mike Justice argued that they "absolutely can."

He also mentioned that Dr. Wright was one of the most "honest and forthcoming" directors of school he's seen and they should defer the conversation until she is present to defend herself.

Staff Writer Sabrina Garrett may be contacted at sgarrett@wilsonpost.com.

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