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Duval Schools Funding Dilemma: Keeping Up With Technology

Lucélia Ribeiro

Duval County Public Schools are facing a budget shortfall for replacing outdated or broken computers.

Current projections show the district will be able to provide just one computer for every 2.5 students by the year 2020.

As it stands now, Duval Schools provide one computer device for every 1.5 students to use during the school day. That’s up from four years ago, when the ratio was one computer for every three students.

At Tuesday’s workshop, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said there’s a problem. The district has been earmarking about $10 million a year, mainly for replacing computers. But with the number of machines climbing, it isn’t going to cover future replacements.

He’s recommending the district apply for a $52 million federal bond.

“It would take 15 years to pay off at about $4.6 million per year,” Vitti said.

The bond is called a Qualified Zone Academy Bond, and it’s what the district's used in the past to get wireless internet and laptops. Vitti said QZAB bonds have a low interest rate, somewhere around 2 percent.

He said with this money, the district can not only sustain its ratio of laptops to students but improve it to an average ratio of 1-to-1 among schools.

Credit Duval County Public Schools
Vitti wants to put interactive monitors in 60 of Duval's schools that don't have them.

He also wants to use part of the money for more touch-screen monitors, as well as special laptop-charging lockers in middle schools, allowing students to keep the same laptop all year, rather than teachers’ keeping class sets.

But some board members like Scott Shine say it isn’t smart to pay for laptops with a five-year life span over the course of 15 years. He says that’s digging a hole, and the district should find the dollars in its own budget.

Board Chair Paula Wright urged the board to take things slow.

Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News
The district is trying out a laptop locker pilot program in some Duval middle schools. Students would scan a school ID to get their laptops at the beginning of the day.

“We don’t have to do this thing immediately,” she said. “I still have a lot of questions.”

Duval pays debt of about $32 million a year, mainly for past building renovations. But Vitti pointed out that out of the seven largest districts in Florida, only one county owes less than Duval.

However, Vitti said the he agrees with board members, the district should start to rethink the budget with the goal of creating more recurring funding for technology, and he also wants to state to help.

“We can also continue to pressure Tallahassee to appropriately find capital needs,” he said.

Vitti said the payback money for a new bond could come out of the $10 million set aside for computers, with the remainder of that fund going toward building maintenance.

The board will continue to meet about Vitti’s proposal, with no timeline set for a vote.  

Photo: "Children at School" used under Creative Commons.

Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.