LUMBERTON — Every child in every grade of the Public Schools of Robeson County will have textbooks and teachers will have access to training and technology after the school board voted unanimously to find the money on Tuesday.
The board did so even though the system’s finance officer was unsure where the money would come from.
At a cost of between $4.5 million and $7 million a year, the school board will buy core instructional programs from vendor HMS for the next three years.
“We realize that some of our teachers, administrators and board members may not like the decision. What I don’t like is that 92 percent of our schools are C, D, and F’s. They’re failing and something needs to change,” board member Brian Freeman said. “If we are short $2.5 million … we are going to have to roll up our sleeves and find that money.”
The theme of trying something different to help Robeson’s schools was apparent throughout the meeting.
“I’m not 100 percent comfortable with saying that those sorts of funds are available,” said Erica Setzer, chief financial officer for the school system. “This will mean less funds that the schools have discretion over — that’s not a bad thing, but a different thing.”
With the the General Assembly still working on a state budget and federal funding not appropriated until October, Setzer said the system is flying a bit blind.
“People don’t like change, but it’s something that’s needed,” board member Dwayne Smith said.
The core instructional programs include traditional textbooks, but also virtual textbooks that can be downloaded onto electronic devices and stay at home with students. Beyond books there will be enrichment activities, technology as well as training and professional development for teachers.
“We start with reading and math, and next year we will follow up with science and social studies. But actually the readers and different things they will be using will be integrating that as the books they will be reading will be about science and social studies,” said Elizabeth Younce, assistant superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction.
The system will examine what is available and what is needed, and then work to find the money to meet any funding shortfall.
“It really depends on, we know we need the core instructions, the core books, the core training and the professional development for our teachers,” said Younce. “Really, it’s narrowing all of that down. We have preliminary numbers of how many teachers we have at different subjects, but again it is looking at those and … identifying every piece that we need.”
The school board unanimously agreed to move forward with air conditioning the gymnasiums of St. Pauls Elementary, Rowland Middle School and R.B. Dean Elementary at a cost of $934,000.
“We find money for everything else in the budget — it was in the budget,” board member Brenda Fairly-Ferebee said. “I don’t know where the money is going to. We need air conditioning for every school.”
The budget for air conditioning is $600,000. The school district has been addressing the lack of air conditioning in schools, starting with the high schools and working its way down.
“We made a commitment to this project years ago,” Mike Smith said. “We need to find the money to address this.”
Board Vice Chairman Peggy Chavis recalled teaching at St. Pauls and how difficult it was in hot and humid conditions.
Alss Tuesday, the Robeson Early College High Robotics Team showed off its robot, Richard. The team, named RobCoBots, created the robot and is responsible for everything from coding the program and engineering to painting it.
Board Chairman Loistine Defreece expressed how impressed she was with the group and its efforts, saying that the board should be able to fund such a project.
“Don’t worry about money, we got you,” Defreece said.
The team is currently looking for public and private funding to continue the program, which was initially started with a grant.
Board member Dwayne Smith told the group, which is in need of space to work, that he could help.
“I’ve got your facility, I’ll furnish everything,” he said.
In other business:
— Shirley Stockton was returned to the Robeson County College board of trustees by a unanimous vote.
— Summer hours for system’s central office were set as Mondays through Thursdays from 7:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. from June 19 to July 27. Normal hours will resume July 31.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989