County school board hears update on internet during workshop

Published 6:00 pm Friday, December 10, 2021

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The message from Skyline’s Edward Henson was a simple one, “Our students deserve to be not only on the national level but above it”.
Henson provided an update about efforts to bring broadband internet to rural Carter County during a workshop for the county school board on Thursday.
As North Carolina’s largest telecommunications cooperative, SkyLine and its subsidiary, SkyBest Communications, provide advanced communications services and technology solutions across an expanding network in northwest N.C., east/middle Tennessee and upstate South Carolina.
Dr. Robert Acuff, Chairman of the Carter County Health and Welfare Committee, joined Henson to provide information to the school board and seek a possible contribution to help with the project.
“The Carter County commission has committed $3.1 million toward internet (service expansion),” Acuff said. “The governor announced a 75-25 match and we have almost $11 million on the table right now. The utilities must apply by writing the grant with Districts 1, 2, and 6 being the ones targeted initially.”
Acuff asked the board to consider an additional $250,000 contribution on top of the match. “If we do not do this with this type of incentive, Carter County would not be able to do it,” Acuff said.
Board member Kelly Crain asked about the cost to add the fiber optic internet infrastructure.
“It’s a moving target because it was a 52-week lead time four months ago and last month it was a 120-week lead time just to get the materials,” said Henson.  “Who knows what it’s going to be when the money is actually released because the cost has increased. Manufacturers have started to charge a 10 to 25 percent surcharge because their cost is going up.”
Henson said a project of this size would be deployed as soon as possible. “I would love the project to be done within 24 months, but it varies.”
The board also heard from Dave Johnson who is the Director of Camp Tapawingo in Watauga as well as Children Bible Ministries. He is interested in starting a “Release Time” program. “Children Bible Ministries currently has about 350,000 students  (nationwide) involved in Release Time, which takes place off school property and is voluntary. No state or federal funds are to be used for this.”
The program transports students to local churches for one hour and teaches them how to be better students while using Bible teaching. Parents are required to sign releases for their children to participate and those releases allow for the transportation of their child to and from the release time. It is of no cost to parents.
Dr. Tracy McAbee, Director of Carter County Schools, provided the following updates to the board:
  • No local schools are teaching Critical Race Theory.
  • Senate Bill 1358 and House bill 1289 that were proposed last year died. The $1,000 hazard pay for full-time teachers and $500 for part-time teachers never passed. No money is appropriated for that.
  • A 2 percent bonus was awarded to certified teachers in their June 2021 check. That bonus ranged from $400 to $500 dollars. The board took money from the ESSER 2 money and gave full-time non-certified teachers a $500 bonus and non-certified part-time teachers $250. The state sent 4 percent which it was truly not that amount but the board gave to make it a full 4 percent raise.
  • The ESSER 3 money received by the county has stipulations on it and cannot be used for hazard pay.

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