Suwannee Democrat

May 9, 2013

HamCo school board workshop roundup

Joyce Marie Taylor
Suwannee Democrat

Jasper — The Hamilton County School Board discussed several items at their April 22 workshop relative to future plans.

Relocation of district offices

Public discussion began on the district office relocation to Hamilton County High School (HCHS). Superintendent Thomas Moffses passed out a building plan to the board members and the audience so they could have a better visual of what Building 1,000 at HCHS will look like after proposed renovations are completed.

Building 1,000 is on the right side of the main office, which currently houses the nursing facility.

“The nursing facility will stay in that building and we will re-work some of the entrances in and out of there, so the district office would not be a student haven,” said Moffses. “It would be separated from the campus.”

Moffses said the one-year savings by making this move is $175,000 right off the bat, factoring in needed renovations at the current district office and overall operating costs. The cost for the renovations at the high school, which include some renovations in the vocational building (900 building), are less than $200,000, he added. “The cost for that would come out of capital and would not affect anything in the general fund,” said Moffses.

Then, the following year it would cost roughly $100,000 as a continuing operating cost.

Board member Greg Godwin said he wasn’t opposed to the move, but he was confused about the costs, stating that they would actually lose $25,000 the first year.

Moffses said, “Okay,” and clarified that the monies are coming from capital improvement funds and do not affect money allocated for teacher raises or steps.

Additionally, Moffses said, the Department of Education (DOE) will be coming out in three weeks. The high school, he said, is geared to handle roughly 1,150 students.

“When this modification takes place, we’re asking DOE...they will take out 110 student stations out of that count and we’re also going to go around to a couple other locations that have been re-purposed within the school itself and we’re going to ask them to take those numbers out of the Florida Inventory of School Houses (FISH) report.”

That would bring the student count possibly down in the 950 range, Moffses explained.

“Down the road, if it ever comes the time that they say you need to move students here or there, it will lower the count at the high school, making that a little less attractive to “one site fits all”.

SACS Review/Staffing plan

Consolidation of organization was something that was discussed during the recent DOE School Advisory Council (SACS) review, Moffses said.

“What we have is three elementary schools right now and each one of those schools are doing things just a little bit different,” said Moffses.

There are currently a little over 800 students in the county at the three elementary schools.

“That would be the equivalent by state standards of one single elementary school of moderate size,” Moffses said.

The proposal brought before the board by Moffses is geared  toward cost savings when purchasing in bulk from vendors, as well as a benefit to school grades, whereby, he hopes to ultimately have one school number that covers three schools, but yet is just one organization.

There would be one principal over all three schools, an assistant principal at each school, two guidance counselors who would serve all three schools, one dean and one family resource person for all three schools, one media specialist at one school and two media support people at the other two, and each school would have an administrative assistant and a receptionist secretary.

Moffses said he is still working with DOE to work out all the details.

$1 billion for education

Moffses explained the truth about the $1 billion for education that he learned from the lobbyist groups handling their financial interests in the legislative session.

“I want to make it clear to everyone,” said Moffses. “Based on everything that has been said, yes, there’s going to be $1 billion added to education. Thirty-three percent of that is going to the Florida Retirement System (FRS). Forty-eight percent of that is going to the teacher pay situation that is still being debated how it’s going to be distributed.”

That makes 81 percent that is already targeted to specific elements of the education system.

“We’re looking at some improvement in our finances, but best case, in the categories that we fall into, you’re not looking at major increases,” said Moffses. “Eighty-one percent of any increase we get is pretty much locked up into some category and not just free money that we can distribute wherever we need to.”

Moffses said the legislation is very close to finalizing all the deals.

Loss of SIG funding

School improvement grant funding is coming to an end, which has been benefitting Central Hamilton Elementary and the high school.

“This is the last year for that funding,” said Moffses.

The challenge will be to find ways to keep personnel who were hired with SIG funds, but Moffses said he is hopeful things will work out budget-wise, especially if the tax referendum passes, because those positions need to be maintained.

Pearson Common Core System

Pearson, Moffses explained, is heavily involved in the new Common Core Standards program and they selected five sites nationwide, including Los Angeles, Chicago and Hamilton County, as they needed a rural site for the program.

“They have a complete system that they’re building from the ground up dealing with common core,” he said.

The transformation to mandatory digital instruction isn’t far away and Moffses said he is looking into a K-2 program for English Language Arts and math with Pearson and their cutting edge digital technology that is geared to each grade level. Being in the test group, Moffses said, is advantageous cost-wise and less expensive than anything he has seen in previous print versions.

“We’re in the final stages with Pearson to get this approved,” said Moffses.

Grades K-2 will be embarking on a digital transition this fall, Moffses explained.

“It will give us an opportunity to find out how kindergartners, first and second graders are going to interact with digital devices, it will give a core group a chance to migrate out of normal teaching into digital delivery teaching, and at the same time, find out where we are still having some complications within our structure network-wise.”

Any network issues can then be worked out before full digital implementation the following year.

The issue the board faces is the cost of about 440 digital devices that need to be bought for students at a cost of about $250,000 or more. Moffses said there are funds set aside for digital enhancements and he thinks they will be fine as far as budgeting for it.

E-rate funding

According to the Funds for Learning website, the E-rate program provides discounts on certain services and products that are essential for classrooms and libraries to receive voice, video, and data communications. The amount of the discount depends on the level of poverty and location of the school or library receiving service. The discount ranges from 20-90 percent of the cost of eligible services.

Moffses explained that Hamilton County is now in a 90 percent funding for E-rate. The federal government, he said, will fund technology projects at 90 percent of the total cost.

“In other words, 10 cents on every dollar,” said Moffses.

This funding will greatly help in the county’s transition to digital education, as the total cost from an Apple, Inc. proposal for all the wiring upgrades, all the wireless technology upgrades, new devices for all the instructors, and all the wireless digital devices for 1,650 students throughout the district is about $3.5 million, Moffses said.

“Of that $3.5 million, $2 million of it will be filed under E-rate,” said Moffses.

Before the end June, Moffses said they should have a response from E-rate as to whether the Apple proposal is approved.

A school board workshop is tentatively scheduled for May 7 where budget issues will be discussed.