Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools outlined new fees, forms and procedures after a WCNC Charlotte investigation identified nearly $1.5 million in missing technology.
CHARLOTTE, NC – When students returned to class after summer vacation, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools have made it clear to their parents that there will now be financial consequences if Chromebooks, iPads, or district-issued hotspots are lost or stolen.
The district-wide changes follow a WCNC Charlotte investigation that identified nearly $1.5 million in missing student technology.
“It was one of the things to accelerate and I made it a dedication of mine and a priority for our department,” said Candace Salmon-Hosey, Chief Technology Officer at CMS. “I believe we need accountability. We need district-level oversight.”
CMS rolled out new fees, forms and procedures for students at the start of the school year as part of an overhaul of the school system’s device program. Salmon-Hosey, who started in early 2022, promised changes following reports from WCNC Charlotte.
“I think collectively in the direction of our Acting Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh, the cabinet members that I work with, my department, I think collectively we all want to do the right thing,” she said.
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A WCNC Charlotte investigation previously found that CMS had lost track of more than 10,000 student devices during the pandemic, funded primarily by federal COVID-19 dollars. The district made no concerted effort to recover money from students and parents to cover the losses, and taxpayers paid for thousands of unused mobile hotspots. The WCNC Charlotte investigation also revealed that some student devices sometimes end up in pawnshops.
After learning of the findings from WCNC Charlotte, Salmon-Hosey created a task force to deal with the discovery before the start of the new school year. District officials believe the pandemic, with its remote, then hybrid, then in-person learning, has exacerbated the problem.
In a Sept. 8 email to CMS principals, vice-principals and school technology contacts, Salmon-Hosey outlined the district’s commitment moving forward. CMS will better track assigned technology when a student changes schools, require device registrations mid-year, limit the number of new devices a student can receive, and charge families a consistent fee when computers are damaged, lost or stolen.
She thinks the $50 fee for lost or stolen devices is much better than the “hit or miss” fee collection that existed before.
“What we wanted to do was level the playing field,” she said. “It’s across the board and it’s fair and that’s what we wanted to do was ensure a level of fairness, so everyone knows what to expect.”
The district also created a financial hardship waiver for families with extenuating circumstances.
Additionally, CMS hired a company to help high schools collect technology from students and dedicated an additional two weeks of “extended employment” at the end of last school year and over the summer so that schools can establish accurate inventories.
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“What your investigative journalism did, it almost brought to light some of the needs of the schools when I came in,” Salmon-Hosey said. “We want to change the culture and you know that doesn’t happen overnight.”
Beyond surveying teachers and staff, the district also invited students to be part of the process.
“It’s baffling that families have taken school-delivered technology to pawnbrokers!” an iMeck Academy student wrote in an email. “I think the district should hold students and families accountable for their actions, whether it’s irresponsibility leading to a stolen item or a senseless accident like leaving a computer outside and it’s raining. .. Whatever decision is made by district officials, it is obvious that all schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg should be held to the same standard and have the same systems in place… Schools should take inventories more often to manage counts more accurately.”
In the months following the WCNC Charlotte investigation, Salmon-Hosey said the district had located some of the missing computers in schools and recovered others from families. She believes that technology is tied to teaching, learning and student success and believes that changes are critical to the district’s future success.
“It’s not something I take lightly,” she said. “I started my career as a teacher, as a classroom educator. I was actually a career technical education teacher. I taught computer applications and business law and I two beautiful girls who grew up in the public school system. I’ve been in educational technology forever and it’s just something I believe in. I’ve seen the value and I’ve seen where it gets rejected and I don’t want to be on that side of the equation.
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