Published: May 12, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: May 12, 2012 10:31 PM
Durham County commissioners on Monday will discuss moving $9 million voters approved five years ago for a new high school to a district-wide technology upgrade.
High school enrollment has eased since voters approved bond funding for the school in 2007, while technology demand has grown, Durham Public Schools officials say.
“Technology is not a want; it is a need in the district,” Superintendent Eric Becoats told commissioners last week.
The $194.2 million bond package for DPS included $47.5 million for a new high school. At that time, the city was the third-fastest-growing city in the state, and the school district’s population was growing by 350 to 650 students per year, school officials said.
Since 2007, however, overall DPS enrollment has dropped by 78 to 32,671, most likely due to the economy and rise of charter schools, school officials say.
That has led to a priority shift from school expansions to building repairs, maintenance and a technology, which includes replacing old computers and expanding infrastructure to maximize education software use and access. DPS officials don’t anticipate building the new high school, for which land has already been purchased, before 2018.
After Becoats was appointed in the summer of 2010, he took a listening and learning tour to gather information for a strategic plan. Technology and “the need to equalize the playing field throughout the district,” was a common issue that came up, he said.
“Based on that feedback, we developed a baseline standard for technology and began to move forward with how we would actually implement such a baseline,” he said.
Lack of technology and inequitable standards was also a common criticism noted by students who spoke out in the fall against a proposed magnet school overhaul.
The technology upgrade, which would be implemented over the summer, would likely cost the system about $1 million a year.
However, the system has budgeted funds to cover those costs and doesn’t plan to return to commissioners to ask for additional funds for technology, Becoats said.
After DPS’ presentation Monday, Commissioner Brenda Howerton asked how the technology upgrade would impact learning fundamentals, such as reading and math.
“How do we make sure we don’t override the fundamentals for technology,” she said.
Sheldon Reynolds, the principal of Lakewood Montessori Middle School, responded by pointing out that his students just moved into a new school equipped with technology.
The technology engages and presents the fundamentals in a way that students can understand, he said.
“We have kids reading at a level and writing at a level that I have never seen before,” Reynolds said.
Meanwhile, school officials said, students who don’t have access to technology, specifically in high school, will not be prepared for college or the work place.
A request to reallocate the remaining approximately $31 million set aside for the high school may be proposed, but would be subject to approval of both the Board of Education and the county commissioners.
Commissioners appear to support the proposal, but are also concerned about future growth and spending the bond money on something different from what voters approved.