School board to buy laptops; paper savings to cover cost

Friday, April 15, 2011

School board members voted Monday to include the cost of laptops for board members in next year's budget, along with the fee for using the Tennessee School Boards Association's eMeeting program. This will allow them to conduct paperless meetings, with the agenda and supporting documents, as well as links to state law and local policy, all available on a secure Web site.

Board member Barbara Kennedy moved to include the cost of the eMeeting program and 11 laptops (one for each board member, one for the schools director, and one for the board secretary) in the budget. She was confident that the savings on paper and ink would completely offset the cost of eMeeting and the laptops.

Budget committee chairman Donnie Moses told the full board his committee supported the use of eMeeting, and considered it "well thought out."

Board member Curt Denton was the first to ask about the possibility of paperless meetings, complaining that his storage space at home was being filled up with school board paper: the "board book" and supporting documents from each monthly meeting, the policy book, and all the notes and documents from committee meetings. Work on the annual budget alone generates an armload of paper, as a copy of each proposed budget is printed for every board member, and then printed again every time a change is adopted.

Denton was also active in another budget discussion at Monday's meeting. He made a motion to "go up 10 cents" on the fuel charge for the use of school buses and vans to transport teams and clubs, making it 50 cents per mile for diesel-powered buses and 40 cents per mile for gas-powered vans.

School principals who attended the board meeting were asked for their reaction, and Keith Stacey of Marshall County High School said, "Our minor sports will struggle with any increase."

"I second that," said Danny Morgan of Forrest. "They'll have to beat the bushes and raise more money."

Assistant director of schools Dr. Larry Miller pointed out that while high school football and basketball are perceived as money-making major sports because people pay to get in to watch the games, in fact they have considerable expenses as well.

"We have to abide by TSSAA regulations on safety and equipment," Miller said. "Soccer loses $2,000-$3,000 per year."

"Are we losing money now?" asked Randy Perryman, referring to the charges for buses and vans.

"I would say so," answered schools director Roy Dukes.

Budget director Sheila Cook-Jones informed board members it was difficult to know if they were making a loss because the money paid by sports teams and clubs for use of buses and vans does not go back into the transportation budget, but is put into the account for "miscellaneous income."

"When fuel jumps a dime overnight we've got to be making a loss," exclaimed Denton.

At the end of the discussion, Denton withdrew his motion to raise the fuel charge - on a condition that it be revisited before the start of the next school year.

In a final budgetary move at Monday's meeting, on a recommendation from Dukes, board members did not accept the lowest bid for pest control services. There were three bids, with the lowest coming from Kirkland's Pest Control, but Dukes said he had talked with Franklin County school system leaders who said they were not satisfied with Kirkland, and therefore he did not recommend them. Marshall County Pest Control's bid was $960 higher. Seven board members voted to accept the Marshall County Pest Control bid. Ann Tears abstained, and Harvey Jones Jr. was absent.

"They're a good company," commented Sam Smith.