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Technology fees waived for all RSS students

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education on Monday waived annual student technology fees after the issue was brought up by Superintendent Lynn Moody.

Moody was discussing re-entry with the board during the called meeting and outlined how recent changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic would affect fee collection.

The fees initially were going to be lowered to $20 for all students because the district opted to purchase iPads and phase out MacBook laptops currently in use by most high schoolers. The fees would normally be used to cover repair costs for the devices.

But Moody on Monday said the new emphasis on remote learning could make fee collection difficult.

In a normal year, the district would not allow a device to go home with a student until the fee was paid, and K-2 students would not take their devices home with them at all. But the district distributed devices to all students in March amid state-ordered school shutdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shortly after, the board entered a new lease with Apple to replace the district’s current devices. Most of the devices can be swapped out during the school day, but there are thousands of virtual-only students in the district and all traditional students will spend three days each week learning remotely as well.

If students are denied take-home devices based on ability to pay, it would adversely affect their ability to perform in class. Moody said the district had options to waive the fees or try its best to collect them.

Due to some state funding the district would not receive this year and waived fees, there could be a $700,000 shortfall in the district’s budget, which would need to be covered by an appropriation from the district’s fund balance, a savings account estimated to be about $6 million.

Chief Technology Officer David Blattner noted the district will possibly spend less funds on repairs this year because of the AppleCare services purchased with the new lease, but board chair Kevin Jones questioned that thinking based on the larger-than-usual number of students taking devices home as well as increased use of those devices as well.

Board member Josh Wagner said he saw no reason reason to wait on the issue and made the motion to waive the fees.

Member Susan Cox expressed concern about being able to make the decision so quickly after being presented with the new information, but later thanked the board for the discussion and voted in favor of waiving the fees.

In other news from the meeting:

• The board voted to allow community groups with current contracts to use its outdoor facilities. The issue was contentious.

Board member Travis Allen questioned why the board would allow outside groups to use its athletic facilities when the district could not allow its own school teams to practice normally using the fields.

Moody said the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s guidelines govern the district’s athletics, and the system could face fines for violating its restrictions.

Allen requested communication in writing from the NCHSAA confirming there would be repercussions for going against its guidelines.

• Assistant Superintendent Anthony Vann also presented a $3 million capital outlay budget. Vann noted a loss of about $421,000 in sales tax revenue from the budget, which was expected due to economic decline resulting from COVID-19.

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