About 40,000 students are returning their Chromebooks to Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools this week as the school year winds down.
While many of the Chromebooks will come back in pristine shape or show signs of the usual wear-and-tear, thousands will bear the scars of neglect and carelessness, with banged-up keys, cracked screens and broken hinges. Some students have gotten creative in their destruction, with one gluing the Chromebook screen shut with Gorilla Glue.
Though the district has covered the cost of damaged laptops this year, it is considering charging a technology fee for the 2021-22 school year to help pay for repairs not covered under warranty.
A proposed annual fee of $10 for students who qualify for free-and-reduced lunches and $20 for other students was presented to the school board last week.
Students using their own devices would not need to pay the fee.
Under the plan, students who pay the fee won’t have to cover repair costs if they damage their Chromebooks.
Students who don’t pay would be responsible for the full cost of repairs, which might mean $85 for a new screen or $65 for a new keyboard.
The fee is one of several proposed revisions to the district’s fee policy. School officials review the policy each year.
The public has until June 7 to comment on the proposed revisions. The policy can be reviewed on the district’s website at https://www.wsfcs.k12.nc.us/Page/95596.
A necessary lifeline during a year of mostly remote learning, Chromebooks will remain a part of a student’s education, though school officials say they hope students will be on their computers a lot less than this year.
The district expects to hand out fewer Chromebooks next year because more students are likely to their use their own devices. If the school board approves it, the technology fee could bring in between $300,000 to $600,000 each year to help pay for repairs.
Kevin Sherrill, the assistant superintendent of technology for the district, told the school board last week that he will have a better idea how much annual repairs will cost in late June, after he and his staff have had a chance to look at the 40,000 Chromebooks that students are returning.
“We’ve set the precedent that we’re not going to charge you anything. If you break it three or four times, bring it back and we’ll give you another one. That’s what we’ve had to do this year to support our families. This is going to be a change, a bumpy change, if we implement the fee because we have taken care of everything this year at a pretty large cost to the district,” Sherrill told the board.
“I know what’s out there but I don’t know what’s going to come back or what shape it’s going to be. I want our kids to have these devices but there’s no way we can keep doing business the way we have this year. There’s no way we can sustain that, and that’s just being honest.”
Sherrill said the district has been replacing 30 to 40 broken Chromebooks a day.
“You’re going to have those students break every one we give them because we’ve seen it,” he said.
Some school board members pushed back against the fee, worried that it would be too much money for a family to afford, especially at the beginning of the school year when multiple fees are due at once.
The technology fee could be a hardship for families with several children in the school system, Board Member Dana Jones said.
“That can really add up for families,” she said.
Sherrill said he understood her concerns. Some districts, he said, charge a $50 technology fee while others don’t charge anything.
“If we don’t approve a fee, we’ll find another way, but we’ll be in a situation where, say someone has five kids and all five break their Chromebook and we try to assess a charge of $80 per (device), which they’re not going to pay. We just have to be prepared to absorb that cost,” he said.
The school district is in the process of figuring out how to spend millions of dollars in federal relief money. Sherrill said the district could probably use some of that money for technology but the money is meant to be spent in ways that are sustainable.
Next year, students will get protective cases for their Chromebooks, which will reduce the number of repairs.
Under the proposed fee policy, students will have to pay $265 to replace a Chromebook, $35 to replace a charger and $20 to replace a protective case.
Students who don’t return their Chromebooks this year will be billed, Sherrill said.
Once public input is gathered, the district may revise the proposed fees. Whatever it decides, the policy must be approved by the school board before it can be enacted. That should happen within the next month.