- 650 new computer
- 60 smart boards
- New app

CHIPLEY - Voter support for the half cent sales tax has proven to be a wise one.

The surtax is poised to raise millions of dollars for Washington County School District. It went into effect on Jan. 1.

"It helps assure our district that we're going to be up to date with our technology and our students will have the best technology that we can offer them," said Director of Technology Dewayne Geoghagan, who has been at the school district for about two and a half years.

"This moves us a great distance down the road," he said moments before.

From January to May, the district collected $459,110.65 from the tax. The average per month was $83,851, and the district also receives a quarterly amount - $39,854.12 in the first quarter.
The district's finance department anticipates receiving $1,170,000 for the next fiscal year.

The 10-year commitment will allow the district to develop a sustainable plan, one simply unavailable in years past due to the ebb-and-flow of state and federal funding.

"This year the legislature cut us in half to $250,000" for money to spend on technology, said School Board member Dr. Lou Cleveland. "If the voters had not voted this through, we would be trying to live on $250,000 for adding new technology. Now we can plan. Now we know that we will have that money year after year for 10 years, whereas before, we had to plan year to year."

"Now we know there will be money to start projects and finish them," she added.

For the 2019-2020 school year, with the sales tax monies, the district will add about 60 Cleartouch Interactive Boards, 650 student computers, and a Focus Community App - a communication tool, downloadable on smartphones and smart devices, that allows the district to share information quickly to students, parents, staff and the community.

"This app will let them be able to get to the grades, FOCUS, and even attendance through their iPhones," Cleveland said. "It's much more convenient, much more smart phone friendly."

At about $3,300 a piece, the smart boards will allow for a diversity of ways to present information in the learning environment and strengthen collaborative learning. For example, if a teacher writes an equation on the board, more than one student - up to 20 different surface touches, in fact - can collaborate to solve the problem together.

In addition, teachers can teach virtual classrooms while in their own classrooms - providing more opportunities for distant learning.

Eventually, each classroom in the district will have one of these smart boards, according to officials. Teachers will have a training on Aug. 5 at Vernon Elementary School to learn more about the usefulness of the boards.

Also, the district has increased its computer to student ratio, with the overall goal to have a capacity of one-to-one.

"The student computers will help our students gain individual attention to their current curriculum," Geoghagan wrote in a summary about the technology usage of the surtax. "Some of our schools’ computers were obsolete and new technology greatly enhances the educational opportunities they can receive."

The new computers arrived July 23.

Also, the district is looking at using the half-cent sales tax funds to expand its broadband infrastructure to handle the number of devices and amount of data that will be used throughout the district as it goes full-on tech.

In addition to technology, the funding has been used to upgrade school stadium sidewalks and repairs and updates at Panhandle Technical College.

When asked what she believes put the district in a better position during voting cycle - essentially, what swayed the voters to believe in the half-cent sales tax, Dr. Cleveland said the School Board did a better job educating the voters about the usage of the tax money.

"Voters became more educated on how important technology is," she said. "It's a double handed-one. We did more of an effort and the public is using technology more daily and they realize that students need more access."