Trustees give first approval to policy on digital devices

By Ben Robinson

Courier Staff

COUNTY — At Monday night’s meeting of the School District of Pickens County’s board of trustees, superintendent Dr. Kelly Pew had students display the possible results of a new program that would encourage students to bring their own electronic devices from home to learn in school.

Pew said she had hoped the policy could be approved at Monday’s meeting, so parents could possibly include needed electrical devices as Christmas presents.

But newly-elected board chairman Ben Trotter pointed out that any policy the board approves must face two readings by the board before being adopted. With the December meeting of the board canceled due to the Christmas holidays, the “Bring Your Own Device” program could only be approved by early next year.

The policy passed its first reading, but will be sent to a committee for further discussion prior to next month’s meeting.

While the proposed policy could seem to be unfair to students from lower-income families, teachers have found their students very open to sharing electronic devices, Pew said.

Dr. Barbara Nesbitt, the district’s instructional technology coordinator, showed board members a film that showed a child learning from technology that “was not available four years ago.”

Nesbitt said the new program allows teachers to “use technology as a teaching tool.” While some teachers were worried about being replaced by a television, teachers have instead found that technology simply gives them more opportunity to expand what they teach.

At the end of the meeting, board member Alex Saitta shared his thoughts on the proposed new program.

“I’m impressed with how the district is evolving with the changing technological environment,” Saitta said. “Rising retirement, medical, building and technology costs are taking a bite out of the budget, and that will soon leave less money to directly educate students. The district has invested more than it should have in laptops, poly-vision boards and computer equipment in general. ‘Bring Your Own Device’ has potential to save money and get students more jazzed up about learning using their own iPods or laptop computers.”

Saitta continued to share his concerns about the district dealing with the budget.

“With a slow economy, revenue growth is much lower than it used to be, yet costs are rising just as much, if not more,” Saitta said. “Benefit costs are up 9.6 percent. That’s starting to take a bite out of our classroom dollars. The district has two choices — cut the growth of costs, so they are in line with the lower revenue, or raise tax rates.

“I say cut the excess first. Why do we give district employees 57 cents a mile (about $14.25 per gallon of gasoline)? I suggest cutting it to a reasonable figure of 30 to 35 cents. Given taxes were raised 39 mills in 2007, 2 mills in 2011 and 2 mills in 2012, raising tax rates should be the last resort. A couple of board members and administration leaders are hinting at another tax hike. What they don’t realize, if the public sees the district as not willing to live within its means (when everyone else is being forced to), this will further erode support for traditional public schools. In turn, that will increase the push for more school choice, charter school and virtual schools.”