More students getting computers

Two Franklin schools are joining a growing list where all students get their own computers to read online textbooks and do assignments and class projects.

The school district asked the Franklin Redevelopment Commission for $455,000 to pay for Internet upgrades at Custer Baker Intermediate School and 760 Chromebooks for all students at both Custer Baker and the middle school. Currently, students at those schools use the laptops in class, but the school district doesn’t have enough for every student like they do at the high school.

The city redevelopment commission gave the initial OK to spend $375,000 on the project, meaning the school district would need to pick up the other $80,000. That same city board, which is in control of money collected in tax-increment financing, or TIF, districts, also paid $500,000 for all students at the high school to get Chromebooks last year.

With the two added Franklin schools, more than half of Johnson County’s public school students will have their own devices, which include laptops and tablets, by the end of the year. More than 13,000 students will have their own devices provided by public schools if Franklin’s request is approved, and another 2,750 students from Clark-Pleasant could join them in the future.

Clark-Pleasant and Greenwood are the only two school districts in Johnson County that have not provided at least some of their students with their own devices, but both are weighing their options for the future.

Clark-Pleasant is upgrading its wireless Internet capabilities at the middle and high schools and has considered using computer labs as classrooms if it provides devices to their students.

Greenwood’s new middle school, which will open in 2017 or 2018, will have wireless ports installed throughout the building in case the school district purchases more laptops or iPads for students to use.

Franklin school officials started with Chromebooks for high school students a year ago. The middle school currently has enough Chromebooks for about half the student body, according to Jeff Mercer, executive director of finance. If the redevelopment commission gives final approval to the purchase, the existing Chromebooks will be sent to Custer Baker, and middle school students will get new laptops, Mercer said.

Superintendent David Clendening said the current Chromebooks could have been used as replacement laptops for students or teachers if their devices broke, but moving them to the intermediate school made more sense.

“We just felt like in our long-range plan, going to CBIS was the best solution,” Clendening said.

By year 2020, Clendening said, he hopes to have all students in the school district with their own devices.

Redevelopment commission members said part of the reason they wanted to approve the request was because of the school district’s support of their plan to use TIF funds to pay back a $15 million loan that could be used for projects, such as renovating King Street near Interstate 65, and would extend the life of the TIF districts by five years. TIF districts set aside property tax dollars from certain businesses for economic development projects, so those tax dollars do not go to other local governments, such as schools, libraries and fire districts.

Franklin school officials supported the TIF district bond, so the city board wanted to give back to the school district, board member Richard Wertz said.

The original investment of $500,000 in Chromebooks last year ago also brought a return for the city, including the Google summit in April, Wertz said. Google already announced that it will return to Franklin next year, and the city’s economy will benefit from the 600-person event, he said.

The added technology in the classroom will also make Franklin schools more competitive, Wertz said. Having a school district that is more up-to-date on technology will be another enticing factor to bring new businesses into the city, he said.

Franklin school officials received initial approval for the $375,000 this week. Redevelopment commission members approved the purchase 4-1. Board member B.J. Deppe voted no.

The school district would pay about $80,000 for technological upgrades needed for the school buildings so that all students can access the Internet at one time. Both the school district and redevelopment commission would pay for the technology upgrades through their capital projects funds.

The redevelopment commission received about $4 million more than five years ago from a special tax incentive program at a building originally owned by Musicland Group. City officials ended the program in 2009, and now the money is used for special projects. In the past, it was used to build a new fire station, and the money for the new Chromebooks will come from the same special fund, Wertz said.

Before the money could be spent, the city board would need to give a final approval next month.