After hearing pleas from several teachers, the Franklin County Board of Education voted Monday to fund two middle school technology positions next year at a cost of about $70,000.
The teaching positions – one each at Elkhorn and Bondurant middle schools – are part of the Gateway to Technology program, an introduction to engineering for middle schoolers.
A grant paid for the position and lab equipment at EMS this year, but that funding is changing and can no longer be used for teacher salaries, said Mark Harrell, a pre-engineering teacher at the Franklin County Career and Technical Center.
He asked the board to pay for the salaries. The school district has already secured $50,000 in grant money to support the program next year, and Harrell has applied for $25,000 more to buy computers.
Project Lead the Way, a national nonprofit organization, provides the curriculum, which is meant to “spark an interest” in science, technology, engineering and math, and prepare students for high school study.
The three EMS teachers who spoke publicly Monday said that’s why the program is needed.
Art teacher Su Sheridan said seeing students succeed with the challenging program this year convinced her of the impact it can have on students overall.
“If we want to enrich our society, we have to start my enriching our curriculum,” she said.
Laura Branham, a seventh-grade math teacher, said she’s watched students struggle with motivation in middle school but excel in high school because of the pre-engineering program there.
“We really can’t tell the benefit that our children will gain from this class in just one year’s time,” she said, later adding that the program allows kids to “see how math and science tie together, and how they (students) need that to make it in the world.”
Reading teacher Kate Osterloh said Franklin County middle schools receive less money per student than all other local schools – there was a gap of more than $1,000 between the middle schools and Elkhorn Elementary, the highest funded, in 2010-2011.
She said paying the technology teachers’ salaries would be a start toward establishing more equity among Franklin County’s schools.
The board voted 4-1 to fund the position. Board member BeLinda Henson, after struggling with her decision, voted against it because she worried the school district may be unable to pay for the program in tough economic times.
Superintendent Harrie Buecker said the district has enough money to fund the two positions.
Board member Doug Crowe pointed to a rainy day fund in excess of $4 million, and Chairwoman Michelle New said she was comfortable with the decision because of the grant money the program had already brought in.