Miscalculation means Rowan-Salisbury Schools will buy 400 more laptops

Published 8:40 pm Monday, August 24, 2020

By Carl Blankenship

SALISBURY — The Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education on Monday approved the purchase of an additional 400 13-inch MacBook Air laptops for a cost of $362,994.

The purchase is in addition to the 1,325 already included in a $12.3 million agreement to buy a new fleet of devices for all staff and students in the district. The agreement miscalculated the number of devices the district would need for staff. RSS Chief Technology Officer David Blattner said the district has put additional checks in place to prevent this kind of mistake from happening again.

Students will be moved to iPads only. But the number of staff laptops has increased by about 100 since the previous lease, which Blattner explained by saying some staff positions now require a laptop. The number also includes spares so staff can have a device while another is being repaired.

The devices will be purchased outright rather than added to the $12.3 million lease, but Blattner said Apple will honor the lease price of the devices.

Board attorney Ken Soo clarified the purchase of the additional devices will not require the district to enter a new lease or go through another approval process involving county government.

Board member Dean Hunter described the error as a gross oversight, though he added that his intent was not to call someone out specifically.

Board member Travis Allen said he still would have voted for the contract in March anyway if it included the $363,000 for the additional laptops and applauded Blattner for the savings on the contract and the high sale price of its old fleet of devices. Though, Allen acknowledged the error was significant.

Board member Josh Wagner said he believes the error is larger than just Blattner and said he voted against the lease in March because he thought the district should have explored options outside of Apple.

In other news from the meeting:

• The board voted to apply for the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund Grant. The district could be awarded a maximum of $10 million from the state in 1:1 matching funds to apply toward the new Overton/Knox K-8 consolidation project.

The funding comes with a catch: the district would not be able to receive funds from the N.C. Education Lottery for five years. Associate Superintendent of Operations Anthony Vann said the district receives about $1.3 million in lottery fund each year. But the maximum grant funding would still pay out more than the lottery allocations.

The grant was historically only available to tier 1 counties on the N.C. Department of Commerce County Distress Rankings. Tier 1 counties are considered the most distressed, with tier 3 counties considered the least. Rowan County is in tier 2.

The grants, at a reduced funding and match rate, were first made available to tier 2 counties last year, though the funding benefits smaller districts more because it is a more significant part of their budgets and they receive smaller lottery allocations.

• The board approved an agreement with education company Amplify for its K-3 reading diagnostic tool mClass for one year. The state gave districts the option to choose their own diagnostic tool for one year.

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Jason Gardner said the change from the three-year statewide contracts seem to stem from a legal dispute between diagnostic providers, so the state opted to allow districts to choose the tool this year, and teachers favored mClass.

The tool will be paid for with $87,036.20 from $172,380 given to the district by the state to pay for the tool.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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