Sulphur Springs ISD trustees, during a called emergency meeting conducted via Zoom Tuesday, Aug. 4, approved an agreement with Region 04 Education Service Center for technology purchases.
Essentially, the inter-local acquisition agreement makes SSISD eligible to apply for SSISD 600 new iPads for SSISD fourth and fifth graders but only pay about half the cost.
A goal of the district is to have enough devices to provide all students with one. Not only would this meet the state’s requirements to transition to all online testing of the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams. It would also, in the event of a necessary closure of campuses due to COVID-19, other health concerns, weather or other extenuating circumstances, the district could easily shift all students to online learning.
SSISD had planned to purchase new laptops for fourth and fifth grades in the next budget; administrators had weighed the cost and benefits of iPads versus laptops for this age level. While laptops would cost extra per device, they come with attached keyboards, which would allow them to be used for writing. IPad purchases would require the additional cost of keypads as well, and the laptops likely could provide additional options not available on the iPads if the district chose to add those options.
For fourth and fifth grades, the district anticipated purchasing 600 devices. That’s exactly the amount of iPads district administrators were notified SSISD could likely qualify for through a funding program. The iPads would come with cases and keypads for typing. The district would receive them at half the estimated $250,000 anticipated to be budgeted for the laptop purchases.
Half of the cost would come from funds available through the federal government, with the state filtering this part of funding to schools through Region 04 ESC. An inter-local agreement is needed with Region 04, and had to be approved Aug. 4 to apply for funding assistance, superintendent explained.
The state is able to obtain the devices in bulk for the entire state. It’s unclear if they would be ready and in by Sept. 1. The date of receipt of the 600 iPads will depend on when that purchase will hit the district fund balance, in the 2019-2020 budget or the anticipated 2020-21 budget.
Trustees also previously gave approval for SSISD to apply for other federal funding to help reimburse some of costs the district is incurring to ensure all SSISD students can have a iPad, laptop or similar device to use in class but also take home in the event in-person classes have to be canceled, as well as other connectivity needs.
Sulphur Springs ISD earlier this summer approved the purchase of 1,400 iPads so that students up through grade 3. Those devices have been purchased and are in, being readied for distribution soon.
Additional keypads may have to be purchased for third graders to use with their iPads depending on STAAR and other future needs.
More hot spots are needed to better meet students’ connectivity needs for online learning as well. The district currently pays a monthly fee to Verizon for hot spots, but needs additional hot spots. The district is looking at adding 100 additional hot spots from AT&T, in the hope that service will be available to students in areas with no Verizon service. The district completed a survey seeking some federal funding to help with that cost.
If the funding doesn’t come through from the federal sources for these connectivity and technology purchases, there are a few other grant funding sources the district may pursue to help, Lamb noted.