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A significant increase in the state’s Education Trust Fund (ETF) Advancement and Technology Fund is giving local school systems plenty of options.

This year, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed off on the largest education budget to date, topping $7 billion.

Notably, the Education Trust Fund (ETF) Advancement and Technology Fund was appropriated $199 million, nearly 400% more than last year’s appropriation of $41 million, most of which is designated for the Department of Education to dole out to each school district.

Last year, Dothan City Schools received $490,396 from the ETF Advancement and Technology Fund. This year, it will receive five times that amount for a total of $2.46 million. Administration has already designated the majority of the additional income.

“We’re going to spend most of the money on deferred maintenance projects – some roofing,” Chief Financial Officer Mike Manuel said. 

The money would fund projects outside of the scheduled capital improvement projects – some of which are already underway.

Manuel said much of the money will also be used on some career technology equipment to upgrade and widen the scope of some of the programs at the Dothan Technology Center, Dothan Preparatory Academy and Dothan High School.

They also plan to give an allocation to remaining schools to help upgrade their media centers.

According to state law, the ETF Advancement and Technology Fund can be used for multiple purposes: repairs or deferred maintenance of facilities for public education purposes in the state, for state-approved means of classroom instructional support for insuring facilities, for state-specified transportation purposes, and the acquisition or purchase of education technology and equipment, or both.  

The funds, however, may not be used as a pledge for the issuance or payment of debt service, according to Section 29-9-4, 9 of Alabama code.

Houston County School officials were immersed in a continued discussion on how to allocate their $1.7 million from the state at Monday night’s work session and board meeting.

Some of the money will be used to help fund existing school resource officers as well as an additional two for the Ashford Elementary and Rehobeth campuses.

The funding for nine SRO officers for its 10 schools was approved at Monday’s board meeting. The Houston County Sherriff’s Office has agreed to fund the two SRO’s until October 1, the beginning of the school’s fiscal calendar. They have already begun the interview process.

After that, they will share the cost with Houston County Schools, along with the five other SRO's agreed upon in 2018. Two SRO officers were already employed by Houston County Schools.

For the rest of the money, board members and officials present seemed in favor of using the money for technology and/or security inside schools. 

“It’s a gift,” Chris Lasseter said of the additional funding. “We need to be wise with this $1.7 million.” 

Discussion was held about possible security enhancements, such as fixing inconsistent door-locking mechanisms with technology solutions at some schools or $300,000 in annual insurance for school buildings.

Bob Blalock, HCBOE technology coordinator, made a formal request to the board to buy around 450 new Dell laptops for all Houston County teachers, for around $330,000. He raised the idea of using old teacher laptops for student-use, which brought about another discussion. 

“What’s needed more, computer-lab computers or devices inside the classroom?” Houston County Chief Financial Officer Kerry Bedsole asked.

Board Chairman Vince Wade suggested that technology for students was the best way to spend the money.

“We need to get this in the classroom, that’s my thinking,” Wade said.

Bedsole reminded the board that the application with a plan to spend the funds was due to the State Department of Education by August 15.

Board members Gary Cox and Ricky Moore were not in attendance. 

Some additional money from the Advancement in Technology Fund is set aside to award grants to local education agencies to provide technology tools and professional development services to classroom teachers.

The next Dothan City School Board work session will take place on Thursday, July 11 at 2 p.m. with a board meeting on Monday, July 15 at 5 p.m. at Beverlye Intermediate School. The next Houston County school board meeting will be on Thursday, July 11 at 5 p.m. 

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