Decatur County Schools receive sizable grant for new technology

Published 6:48 pm Friday, January 20, 2017

The Decatur County Board of Education met on Thursday, Jan. 19, for their normal monthly meeting. However, this meeting took a turn for the better when Superintendent Tim Cochran delivered the news that $360,000 worth of grant money had been awarded to the district to be put toward 2,000 new laptops.

The grant, which is a state issued competitive grant, was issued to some extent to 33 districts across the state. Out of those 33 districts, Decatur County was one of only seven that was awarded 100 percent of what they asked for.

“We actually received the most amount of money of any county that received an award,” said Cochran. “Now, there were some systems that asked for $700,000 and got $300,000 but we asked for $360,000 and we got $360,000.”

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In order to receive the grant, the board of education had to submit an application to the state that showed various ways the money would be used. The application showed how the technology would be utilized, and also focused on the need for the technology within the district.

The grant application was carefully constructed by members from the technology department in the district, and even retired educator Suzi Bonifay, who had worked on previous grant applications. The success of the application brought some attention to the district and the board of education.

“We made a few counties mad because we didn’t share our application with them. We had a few people reach out to us and want to see our application and we actually didn’t share it because it is competitive,” said Cochran. “So we’ve got a few neighbors that got none or a little bit and we got 100 percent funded.”

The increase in technology puts the school system in a much better place than before. Prior to the grant, the district only had 1,000 laptops for 5,000 students.

The new laptops will bring the computer to student ratio in the high school and middle schools up to 75 percent. The elementary schools will all be above 50 percent after the grant as well. The grant has ramifications that go beyond immediate technology needs though. For instance, in the upcoming SPLOST fund, some money can now be allocated away from technology and used to address different facility needs throughout the district.

“We have so many facility needs that we’ll be dealing with over the next 10-15 years so it’s just going to free up money from technology to go to a building project sooner than later,” said Cochran.

The laptops will arrive fairly soon, according to Cochran. The order has not been placed, but the bid for the supplier has been. The laptops are all in stock and ready to be shipped pending the order. The district now has to come up with an implementation plan for the arrival of 2,000 laptops, but Cochran expects they’ll be available for use by the end of the year.

“Once we get them we’ll have to program them, put our software that we utilize on each one of them,” said Cochran. “So we’ll have to touch each one of them and our goal is to have some of them up and going before testing this year so we can utilize them for our online testing.”