Tennessee Schools and Counties Work Together to Fund Tablet Initiatives

School savings and a county funding shuffle are helping school districts jumpstart the purchase of devices for students.

by Bob Fowler, The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn. / July 20, 2016

(TNS) — CLINTON, Tenn. — An innovative proposal to fund the startup of a three-year program to pay for computer tablets for all students in the Anderson County school system has passed final muster, and it also translates into financial windfalls for the Oak Ridge and Clinton school systems.

The move keeps the county property tax for the fiscal year that started July 1 unchanged and provides $155,494 and $32,413, respectively, for Oak Ridge and Clinton schools.

"It's one of the most positive things I've been involved with in my 20 years on (county) commission," said Myron Iwanski, chairman of the county's finance and budget committees. "I think it is a major step forward for our school systems."

He said the computer tablets will ultimately result in a better trained workforce "that's more computer-savvy."

"Only a few times in a career do we have an opportunity to make 'life-changing' decisions for our students, our educators and our community at large," Johanna Whitley, director of the county schools system's technology program, wrote in an email congratulating commissioners for their decision.

Commissioners have approved shifting 2.8 cents of property taxes, and the county school system has chipped in $150,000 from its budget to fund the first year of the effort. All told, county schools will receive $400,105 to pay for the initial year of what's dubbed the "one-to-one" effort.

Part of the money — the equivalent of 2 cents in property tax revenue or $316,000 — has been shifted from a program to allocate money for purchases of land deemed suitable for industrial development. Iwanski said about $900,000 has already been set aside for such properties, which have heretofore proven difficult to find and buy. The search for suitable land continues unabated, he said.

The unexpected revenue for Oak Ridge and Clinton schools will speed up Oak Ridge's one-to-one program. The tiny Clinton School District already has a similar program, and its new revenue can be used for other technology purchases.

Iwanski said the school systems have agreed to sign memos that the windfalls are "one-time money" so it doesn't affect state maintenance of effort funding requirements, and the Tennessee Department of Education has approved the plan.

Funding formulas for the last two years of the program will be determined later. An expected surge in sales tax revenue in coming years from the startup of the Main Street Oak Ridge redevelopment program should provide one option, Iwanski said during Monday's commission meeting.

©2016 the Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tenn.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.