Superintendent finalizes QZAB wish list

Published 10:05 am Friday, November 7, 2014

Finding out late that $1.8 million in Qualified Zone Academy Bonds were on the table, Superintendent Willie Bell had to act fast to potentially snap them up.

On Oct. 28, he presented to Franklin City Council the approximate $1.8 million wish list that he will send to the Virginia Department of Education to procure the items.

On the list are approximately $1.13 million in technology, and $681,500 in school building renovation-related items.

QZAB is a federal program that encourages tax breaks to loaning agencies that help cover interest. It can be used by schools based on certain criteria, including a high percent of free and reduced lunch student population and the district being located in an economically depressed area.

Of some concern for council was the technological items. Over a 15-20 year bond, by the time you get to the end of it, those technological items are outdated or obsolete, Ward 2’s Benny Burgess said.

“Financially, that’s not usually very sound,” he said.

Bell said that the lifespan of tablets and laptops is about 3-5 years. However, when you initiating a contract with a vendor, divisions account for that.

“You have it in the contract so that when it comes time to start replacing items, it is at a minimal cost,” Bell said. “It won’t be like replacing it with a brand new laptop down the road, where it would be like paying $2,000 to $3,000. We will be replacing those items in and out, where it would be at minimal cost.”

Bell added that it would be something that could be handled in the school’s base budget.

“I saw that technological items were eligible to be put in, but I wondered if it was financially sound to go out and borrow and it not last,” Burgess said. “But if, in effect, over the next 15 years, you can replace them for next to nothing, then it is not as big of a concern.”

Some of the other technological items, such as the Promethean Boards — the smart boards, have a long shelf life.

“Everything up there, you need,” Mona Murphy of Ward 4 said about upgrading the technology. “We are hoping that as we move forward, we can stop living in the old ages, and get to the new ages.”

As far as new construction, which can’t be included for QZAB funds, Murphy also hoped to be rid of the building modules where some classes take place.

“That’s in the forefront,” Bell said. “As we move forward, that will be part of the facilities plan. We are thinking about the children and want them to be in a top-notch facility.”

Technological items include 175 laptops for all schools; 150 classroom wireless access points; 300 surface tablets for grades 3-5; 65 Promethean Boards for all schools; and eight audio enhanced classrooms.

On the equipment and renovation side, replacing old HVAC units and other equipment purchases for energy efficiency reasons are the biggest buys. But, Bell would also like to replace the roof on the old Charles Street Gym.

The next step will be a hearing on Nov. 10, at the council meeting.