Rock Hill school board discusses iRock, budget

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comJune 9, 2014 

— A shortage of funding, the future of iRock and reaction to a report from the district’s accrediting agency were all on the agenda of the Rock Hill school board Monday night.

Board members first heard a presentation on the 2014-15 budget, which consists of $134.9 million in expenditures but only $133.5 million in revenue, resulting in a shortfall of about $1.4 million.

Even with potential cuts, like a 5 percent reduction to all department budgets, reducing professional development for the iRock initiative and reducing funding for special programming at some schools, the district will still need to use about $776,000 from the fund balance.

Those cuts would be “devastating,” said Elaine Bilton, the district’s executive director of finance.

There was a proposed expansion of $800,000, or about 11 percent, to exceptional student education. It is very difficult for the current staff to meet the needs of students enrolled in special education, said associate superintendent Harriet Jaworowski. Even with the additional funding, all of the issues won’t be addressed.

Board members expressed concerns about the need to pressure legislators to fully fund the base student cost. They also challenged the possibility of reducing the number of substitutes, using teachers as substitutes, and the money for technology that may be underutilized.

A public hearing on the budget will be at 6 p.m. Monday at the district office. The board will meet again in a work session right after that public hearing. The board has until the end of the month to approve the 2014-15 budget.

Also on Monday, the board considered Phase 2 of iRock. iRock is a multi-year, multimillion dollar technology initiative that aims to put a portable computer in the hands of every student. In the 2013-2014 school year, every student in the district in grades 4-8 and ninth-graders at South Pointe High School had an iPad, along with several other class sets at the elementary and high school levels.

In the upcoming school year, district officials proposed providing an iPad to every ninth-grader at Rock Hill and Northwestern high schools and every 10th- grader at South Pointe High School, while continuing the 1:1 deployment in grades 4-8. This plan – referred to by iRock project manager Chris Smith as “Plan C” – is a substantial scaling back of the original proposal presented to the board in February, which called for a laptop for every high school student. To implement Plan C, the district will need to spend $350,000 to purchase 850 new iPads.

Multiple administrators, teachers and students spoke as part of the presentation, advocating for the expansion of the iRock program and the continued use of iPads in the classroom.

The board also responded to the full report on the district issued by AdvancED, the district’s accrediting body, which criticized the board for not following policy and overstepping its bounds, among other things, as determined by interviews with stakeholders in the district.

In response, the board has decided to form a committee to review board policy and make sure the board is staying in compliance with it.

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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