Mayor announces $6 million capital plan for student technology

Mayor Karl Dean will file legislation with the Metro Council for $6 million in capital funding to purchase student technology needed for PARCC testing.

From the Mayor’s Office:

Mayor Announces Investment of City Capital Funds to Purchase Technology for Metro Schools

New Computers Would be Purchased With $6 Million Capital Plan

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Mayor Karl Dean today announced that legislation has been filed with the Metro Council to use city capital funds to purchase $6 million of technology for Metro Schools, which would fund computers to prepare students for Common Core State Standards and taking new state-required standardized tests.

“Education has been and remains my top priority, and as a supporter of the more rigorous Common Core State Standards and the testing that accompanies them, I am dedicated to ensuring that our students have the tools they need to succeed,” Mayor Dean said. “Using city capital funds will also allow Metro Schools’ reserve fund to remain at its current healthy level, which is critical in the event that an unforeseen financial emergency should occur. I appreciate the collaborative effort that Metro Schools has made to reach this agreement and help ensure that we are providing our students with the resources they need while still exercising fiscal restraint.”

After discussions between the city and Metro Schools, both agreed a $6 million capital plan would allow Metro Schools to purchase computers and computer carts for students to prepare for Common Core and take the new tests. Metro Schools plans to use existing resources in its operating budget to cover teacher training. The Metro School Board initially voted to use $14.8 million from reserve funds to pay for new technology, teacher training and other items. This new capital plan allows Metro Schools to meet its testing needs without tapping into reserve funds.

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are more rigorous educational standards to ensure students graduate high school prepared for college or career. In many states that are implementing Common Core, students in grades 3 to 11 take new state-mandated tests, called Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). In Tennessee, students will take PARCC tests for the first time next school year.

“On behalf of Metro Schools, I want to thank Mayor Dean for proposing this agreement to our technology funding request,” said Jesse Register, director of Metro Schools. “Now, we should be able to fully implement our technology plan by the time school starts next year with this solution. We are fortunate to have a Mayor who is willing to use city resources to support the needs of our students.”

Today’s substitute legislation amends a $15 million capital spending plan for heavy equipment that was filed a week ago by adding the $6 million technology purchase.

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Facts on fund balance & why we must spend on technology

UPDATE (Jan. 17, 3:25 p.m.): Mayor Karl Dean will file legislation with the Metro Council for $6 million in capital funding to purchase technology needed for PARCC testing.

Read the full press release from the Mayor’s Office.

PREVIOUSLY:

What is a fund balance?

The amount of money we receive from Metro Government is based on a projection of county revenue. When revenue is more than expected, the difference goes into a “fund balance,” a pot of extra money set aside for a rainy day. Likewise, if we do not spend all of the money in a given year’s budget, the remaining funds go into the fund balance.

Metro Government policy dictates we keep the fund balance high enough so that it’s equal to at least 5% of our operating budget, a number we’ve beaten handily for several years.

Are charter schools part of this fund balance?

Interestingly enough, no, even though they are funded according to the same methods we are. Any extra money they receive is readily available for spending. They do not need special authorization from the Metro Council as the district does.

What is the fund balance spent on?

The Metro Council must approve any use of the fund balance, usually based on a recommendation from the Mayor.

Earlier this fall, the Board of Education approved a plan to use some of the fund balance. The Board sent a request to the Mayor to use parts of its fund balance for big, one-time expenses including:

  1. Retirement incentives for 30+ year employees
  2. Technology and teacher training to prepare for state-mandated PARCC testing for Common Core State Standards
  3. A newer, more efficient timekeeping service that will help us better keep track of employee hours, attendance and pay

The Mayor recommended to Council to allow us to tap the fund balance for item #1, and we are grateful for that. The retirement incentives could save our district between $2-7 million per year in employee costs.

The Mayor did not recommend our requests for funding for timekeeping services and to buy technology and properly train teachers for upcoming PARCC tests.

What are PARCC tests and why do teachers need to be trained?

PARCC testing is the online testing that goes hand-in-hand with the new Common Core State Standards. It will take the place of TCAP and End-of-Course tests very soon. The entire state is moving to PARCC testing, along with most other states. Just like Common Core State Standards, PARCC assessments have been developed by the states, not by the federal government.

Huge portions of PARCC testing are only done online. That means our classrooms and teachers need to be technology ready before we can even take the tests, much less score well.

That gives us three big, immediate needs:

  1. Buy 8-9,000 laptops, enough to allow every student in the largest grades of every school to all take online tests simultaneously.
  2. Prepare our schools with strong enough wifi to handle all the simultaneous traffic.
  3. Train teachers on using the new technology for classroom instruction and on the specifics of PARCC testing and the technology to administer PARCC.

Need #2 is finished. That’s a project we proudly capped off this semester. Needs #1 #3 are still needed. We need to buy more laptops and train some 6,000 teachers and staff to ensure proper administration.

As you can imagine, that costs money. Our hope was to use some of the fund balance to pay for this, and incorporate future technology needs and upgrades into future operating and capital budgets.

Why didn’t you just ask for this money in the operating and capital budget process this year?

We did.  For the last few years, the Board of Education requested millions of dollars in technology funding from the Mayor and Metro Council, but those requests have only been partly met, if they were met at all.

We haven’t made a substantial investment in technology since the 2007-2008 school year, when we received $14 million for technology spending. Every year since has been $10 million or less, and some years have been $0. Our ten-year plan calls for $15-20 million every year in technology spending just to keep up.

What will you do without the funding for this technology and training?

We will have to find the money elsewhere. We must provide the technology for students to take PARCC assessments and must train teachers to use the technology and administer the assessments.

Just like the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce recommended, we intend to be the leading district in Tennessee in implementing and communicating Common Core State Standards. And nothing has changed about the need to buy more technology for PARCC testing.