Piedmont council mulling decision on Internet service
by Laura Gaddy
lbgaddy@annistonstar.com
Nov 08, 2013 | 3390 views |  0 comments | 103 103 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In this file photo, Piedmont fourth-grader Jaxon Morris, 10, and his sister, Aly, 15, a Piedmont High freshman, make use of the school system’s city-wide wireless Internet system. (Anniston Star photo by Eddie Burkhalter)
In this file photo, Piedmont fourth-grader Jaxon Morris, 10, and his sister, Aly, 15, a Piedmont High freshman, make use of the school system’s city-wide wireless Internet system. (Anniston Star photo by Eddie Burkhalter)
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The Piedmont City Council heard a pitch this week from a school official on why they should help pay for home Internet service for students, but members haven’t yet committed.

The pitch Tuesday came from schools Superintendent Matt Akin, who made a long-delayed presentation to the council on Tuesday, asking that the city resume monthly $6,250 payments for a citywide wireless network to connect to students’ school-issued laptops.

Akin said the network is crucial to the school system’s three-year-old program to issue laptops to all students in grades four through 12 as part of a plan to change the way schools work and improve student performance.

The council heard him out, but has yet to commit. On Friday, he told The Star he was confident the council will come to the school system’s aid.

“We have established and are establishing a good relationship with the city,” Akin said. “I am very positive moving forward that they are going to be a partner.”

Some city leaders seem to agree, but have not explicitly said they would vote to restore the funding.

“We’re a small town,” said Mayor Bill Baker Wednesday. “If we can give our kids a good education, I think we need to continue spending money in that area.”

Councilwoman Mary Bramblett during the council meeting offered a positive response to Akin’s presentation.

“I think the schools are the best thing Piedmont has going for it,” she said.

Councilman Frank Cobb questioned the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting, saying the city is cash-strapped and struggling to repair other basic city services. And, he said, the city needs to be sure it doesn’t neglect its other responsibilities.

“I worry every day we’re not going to have enough money to pay our employees,” Cobb said.

In April 2012 the city began paying $6,250 per month as part of a $30,000 monthly plan to provide all students with wireless Internet service at home and elsewhere in the school district.

The largest portion of that monthly cost was paid for with an $867,0000 Federal Communications Commission grant. The city in 2011 agreed to kick in $200,000 for the project. Most of the Internet service was provided by Wetumpka-based Information Transportation Services. The company used some city-owned cables to supply the service and agreed to pay the city $6,500 per month for use of those cables. The city in turn provided $6,250 of that to the school system to help cover its portion of the service fees.

The city stopped making those payments to the school system a year ago at the request of former Mayor Rick Freeman, said City Clerk Michelle Franklin. Attempts to reach Freeman late Friday were not successful, but in August, he attributed the city stopping the payment to a line item being omitted from the budget.

The grant that paid for the rest of the service ran out in March. Akin has said he hoped the schools would be able to use the city’s $6,250 monthly payments to continue providing at-home access for students after the grant ran out.

In Tuesday’s pitch, the superintendent detailed the academic gains the system has made since it began issuing laptops to students in 2010.

Akin says students need to be able to access the Internet from home to do homework and to get the most out of new teaching methods based on digital devices. Each student in grades four through 12 take home the laptops, which teachers use to help students advance to new topics as soon as they grasp academic concepts.

Since the technology program began, Piedmont’s schools have been recognized as state and national leaders in education innovation. Students’ scores on standardized tests have also increased since the project’s launch.

The Internet service was discontinued in July, but restored in August when school resumed at a lower monthly cost of $20,500 that the school system negotiated with ITS. The system has been picking up that reduced tab for the Internet for students who live inside the district. Parents of students who live outside the district have been given the option to pay $15 per month for a connection if their children are on free and reduced lunch and $40 monthly if their children are not on free and reduced lunch.

At the beginning of the school year, the city agreed to supply the $6,250 payment for one month to turn the service back on. After that, Akin was expected to brief the council so it could decide whether to reinstate the payment permanently. That meeting was delayed until this week.

The council next meets at 6 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Council Chambers, on 312 North Center Ave.

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.

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