With little warning and a lot of confusion, the Henrico County School Board awarded a $17.6 million contract Thursday to Dell Inc. for almost 19,000 new laptops for high school students and staff members.
The contract award comes as school and county officials are making the case that Henrico faces significant fiscal difficulties in the years ahead.
Though School Board members said they discussed the issue during a closed session Thursday afternoon, the contract was not on the meeting agenda and was awarded after the public comment period.
“I’m a little bit uneasy about it,” said board member Lisa A. Marshall, specifically citing the lack of public comment.
Board member John W. Montgomery Jr. said he agreed with Marshall’s concerns but offered assurances that the contract had been properly vetted by staff members and legal advisers. Montgomery said officials had to move fast on the contract to ensure the laptops would be ready for the start of the new school year.
“I feel comfortable that we are getting good value,” Montgomery said. “I do regret that we haven’t had a chance to put a little more notice into it.”
The new contract, a four-year lease with an option to purchase, will be the third time the school system has replaced the student computers offered as part of its one-to-one laptop initiative, according to officials.
The schools will get 18,825 laptops, 22 servers and 1,450 docking stations, officials said. The laptop model is Dell’s E6430.
About $4.3 million to pay for the first year of the lease was included in the school system’s $508 million budget for fiscal year 2014, officials said. The School Board gave final approval to the budget just before the contract award was discussed.
J.T. “Tom” Tokarz, a deputy county attorney advising the School Board at Thursday’s meeting, said officials had just received a letter of intent from Dell on Wednesday afternoon.
Despite the concerns, the board voted unanimously to award the contract.
“I do apologize to the board,” said Superintendent Patrick Russo, who acknowledged that officials were not following the standard process.
An estimated $33 million shortfall, much of it in the schools budget, has prompted the Board of Supervisors to request a referendum this fall for a vote on adding a 4 percent meals tax. The new tax would generate about $18 million per year, which officials say will be used to fund schools.
In other action at Thursday’s meeting, the board voted unanimously to expand a new 2.0 GPA rule for sports eligibility to middle schools.
Beginning in the 2013-14 school year, middle school athletes’ grade point average will be monitored. Those who struggle will get counseling and tutoring, but no sanctions will be imposed.
Starting in 2014-15, seventh-graders who fail to achieve a 2.0 will be barred from competing but will still be allowed to practice. Eighth-graders who miss the mark will be ineligible to participate in any way.
In sixth grade, students will be informed of what the expectations are at future grade levels, but they won’t suffer any sanctions related to grades.
In February, the School Board approved a new rule that requires high school athletes to earn a 2.0 to play interscholastic sports. High schoolers will get a similar test period next year, with enforcement starting in 2014-15.
The rule is intended to set a higher standard than that of the Virginia High School League, which requires students to be enrolled in at least five subjects after passing five subjects in the previous semester.
School officials have said the high school rule will affect about 11 percent of student-athletes, many of them football players. It’s unclear how many students would be affected in the middle schools, because the school system does not currently calculate GPAs at that level.
O.k.....Mr. Russo...I can't e mail you so I am posting this so Everybody can see. I appreciate...the excellent education my daughter and son are getting at Henrico. I have the right...no matter what you may do to me...to express our complete and utter dismay on what you just did.
You want a High School? You just spent the money on Dell computers that is having TROUBLE NOW. You just spent our money on a company that will not be in operation as we know it by next year.
Computers have not made our students smarter.....Did Eisenstein have a computer? Did Alexander Gram Bell have a computer?
And now you want a Meals tax voted on by some people who have Obama Phones for free...who do NOT PAY AN INCOME TAX....who get EBT cards and Food Stamps...and Welfare and these people are going to place a tax on people who choose to de-stress and eat out. Shame on you....
I would have written this to you...but you have forbidden me. We have not gone on Vacation....because we can't afford it.....so I don't go out and buy a new computer.....just because I need one.....Everybody....you must also know that Henrico County Schools is spending money to provide FREE BROADBAND ACCESSS to all areas of the County because these people on Food Stamps, Obama Phones for free and Welfare need to have FREE BROADBAND ALSO.....what is wrong with us who work and pay not only income taxes but also sales taxes.
Henrico County Schools.....you do not need anymore money when you just did this......DELL COMPUTERS WILL BE OUT OF BUSINESS BY NEXT YEAR.