It remains true that the paper has stood by and watched as "them that had got" over the three decades since the district was consolidated--watched as PTA's in wealthier suburbs raised the money to provide new band uniforms, new band instruments, computers, Smartboards, even overhead projectors, watched as the disparity in equipment ballooned to the point of embarrassment. Surely, not even the parents at Charles Pinckney Elementary in Mt. Pleasant would claim that parents at Fraser Elementary downtown could replicate their 41 Smartboards if only the Fraser parents were more involved! [See Schools to Get Technology Boost]
Smartboards are an exciting, albeit expensive, new technology that may indeed advance student motivation. However, although it looks promising, its effectiveness in advancing learning remains anecdotal so far. We can be sure that if discipline is not improved in classrooms, Smartboards will be no more effective than blackboards.
Of more concern is how the technology is being financed and whether it will be fully utilized.
Any large expenditure--and at a cost of $42.5 million over five years, this one qualifies--needs to be justified in two ways. First, will the return on this investment be worth the cost? One would have to say that having equally equipped schools is worth the cost; it's not as clear that the full bells and whistles in play here are all as necessary, but perhaps CCSD is getting a good deal on the full package that justifies the extra cost. We'll never know.
Second, and equally important, is the foregone expenditure on some other aspect of CCSD. Think of it this way--going to college full-time has tuition, room, and board expenditures that we know all too well; most of us do not consider the foregone INCOME that the student does not make while he or she is a full-time student. Even adding in that foregone income may still suggest that the student should go full time in order to reap future benefits.
So, what aspect that might cost $42.5 million over five years (and over $6 million per year thereafter) is being foregone? Where is the money coming from anyway? Here's what CCSD says,
What I get out of this is that the money will come from the capital fund that is not limited by being tied to sales tax revenues and, as far as I can tell, that is limited only by how much the Board wants to increase taxes. The district is spending $42.5 million over five years. Then CCSD will need to spend about $6.4 million every year thereafter to keep on track. I hope it's worth it.
The plan will be paid for through the capital fund because this expense requires an ongoing funding stream, said Michael Bobby, district chief financial officer. A majority of the tax increase on the debt service fund is tied to these improvements, as well as those for school libraries. After five years, the plan will require about 75 percent of the $8.5 million annual amount to replace and enhance equipment.
As for full utilization--is there a teacher out there who has not had the experience of watching new technology's being underutilized because of lack of training or lack of time built in to learn to use it? Training is usually not considered a capital expense. 'Nuff said.
In regard to libraries (excuse me, media centers), I've addressed in previous blogs the ridiculous disparities that exist, especially in District 20. I do wonder about the P & C's math skills, however. According to '09 Budget Addresses Libraries, "[CCSD officials] found the district's median book age was 17 years old. The average age of collections in school libraries statewide ranges from two to 38 years, and the average age overall was 15 years, according to state education department reports."[italics mine]
Who is it--the editors or CCSD officials or the reporter--who does not know the difference between a median and an average? It is a difference!