School district awarded 300K to help close the digital divide

The Moore County Board of Education unanimously approved Connect! Virtual Academy as a stand-alone online school at its April 12 regular business meeting. The Connect! Virtual Academy began in 2017 when parents requested options beyond brick-and-mortar schools. Teachers created online programs and, in March 2020, the pandemic forced online schooling.

Connect! Virtual Academy offers choices with blended education, so students may take part in any other extracurricular activity and with full-time online education.

There are 527 students, with 56% as exceptional and 45% as minority.

There are 18 teachers, one early childhood teacher, and six teachers to cover electives.

End-of-grade testing is conducted in person at their assigned school.

Surveys showed that 50% of respondents would seek other options if Connect! Virtual Academy was not available while showing about 600 more online students if it was available.

Registration for the online school begins April 12 at noon. Contact the Moore County Board of Education at (910)-947-2976 for details.

In action items of the meeting, the board accepted a bid for software to monitor student internet activity on school devices.

The North Carolina General Assembly awarded Moore County Schools $131,673 for the software.

Linewize NetRef Classroom Management software allows teachers and administrators to monitor real-time activity, direct students to appropriate websites, and restrict access.

In other matters, Andrew Cox, the executive officer for budget and finance, reviewed the budget request for the 2022-23 school year.

The budget covers a 2.5% salary increase for teachers and a 2.5% or $15 per hour, whichever is higher, for classified staff.

The next step in adopting the county budget is to present the budget review at the April 19 meeting of the Moore County Board of Commissioners.

School board member Robert Levy said he supports the budget and said it was important for fourth grade classes to be small, so teachers can help students who have not reached their prime reading levels.

Levy said the board needed to be more transparent with the commissioners about the need for more money.

“We are going to meet with resistance from the community because of every single dollar we get, and these are from older people on fixed incomes whose property taxes have to pay for the schools,” Levy said.

To read more on the school budget, please click here.

Also, the sale of the old Aberdeen Primary School at $400,000 to Drain the Swamp, LLC was approved in a close vote.

Out of the seven members, three opposed after board member Ed Dennison made a motion to table the vote until next month.

Dennison said there was no protection to prevent buyers from reselling. The property bid at $400,000 is $200,000 less than appraised value. Dennison said that the school system should get 50% of profit from any resell of any portion of the old school.

Board member David Hensley said to get the money in the bank, that it was a private sale, and to let them flip the property.

Board member Stacey Caldwell said she knew the buyer, and he was a developer and would probably sell part of it and build houses on the other part.

Board members Elizabeth Carter, Philip Holmes, Levy, and Hensley voted for the sale.

The proposal for gym renovations with design services from SfL+a Architects, with the first projects being Cameron, Highfalls and Westmoore elementary schools, in the amount of $500,000, was accepted.

For the purpose of providing transparency to the public, the board voted during its open session to revote on a Dec. 13, 2021, closed session vote to cover defense costs for the Pratte v. Carter lawsuit, number 21-CVS-1492.

Residents Beth Pratte and James Moore filed a complaint against Elizabeth Carter, Edward Dennison, and Stacey Caldwell, in their official capacities, and the board of education on Nov. 23, 2021.

The lawsuit deals with public officials having a social media account and restricting specific individuals from commenting.

The North Carolina School Board Association uses a trust account and legal team to defend school boards and individual members.

Read the docket with the complete list of findings here.

~Written by Sandhills Sentinel Journalist Stephanie M. Sellers. Contact her at [email protected].

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