Connect Bertie still breathing

Published 9:09 am Thursday, July 15, 2010

WINDSOR – The members of the Bertie County Board of Education have clarified the action taken Monday afternoon in an emergency session.

Wednesday afternoon, the board issued a press release that emphasized its willingness to move forward with the Connect Bertie project should the school district be able to reach a workable agreement with Century Link.

In the meantime, Century Link has also issued a statement that emphasizes their readiness to move forward with the Connect Bertie project.

On Monday, the board met in an emergency session and announced at its conclusion that there was no contract between Bertie County Schools and Century Link and that the board would not participate in Connect Bertie until further notice.

Rumors were abundant the project was dead, but the board said in its Wednesday press release that such was not necessarily the case.

“The members of the Bertie County Board of Education have been asked various questions in recent days regarding the Board’s position on the Connect Bertie project,” the statement reads. “The Board would like to make it clear that it is still willing to discuss terms and conditions of a contract with Century Link that would allow internet service to be provided to families of students in Bertie County.”

While saying they would like to move forward with the project, which would provide computers and internet access in the homes of students who receive free or reduced lunch, the board also made it clear the contract that was under consideration was not acceptable.

“… The large majority of terms of the contract currently proposed by Century Link are unacceptable to the board,” the statement reads. “Century Link’s proposed contract is not fiscally prudent and would significantly reduce the very limited funds available for the education of students in Bertie County.”

The press release then lists six concerns the board had with the contract.

Those concerns include:

1. The proposed agreement would obligate the board to spend in excess of $2,250,000 over the next five years;

2. The proposed agreement would require the Board to pay for internet service for 1,407 families even if only a small fraction of the families are actually provided service;

3. The proposed agreement would require the Board to pay the monthly charges for any upgraded services by the families with the Board tasked with having to collect the money for the upgraded services from the families each month;

4. The proposed agreement could not be terminated if the Board was not appropriated the funds to pay the monthly charges;

5. The proposed agreement would require the Board to recover the modem from any families that stops accepting internet service and return the modem to Century Link at the Board’s expense; and

6. The proposed agreement would require the Board to pay Century Link the retail costs for any modem used by a family that the Board does not return to Century Link.

Century Link spokesperson Derek Lowe said the company had proceeded with the project as planned.

“Century Link is very disappointed by the Bertie County School’s Board of Education’s decision earlier this week regarding the Connect Bertie contract with Century Link,” Lowe said. “We disagree with the Board’s characterization of the status of the contract.

“The delay in the implementation of Connect Bertie is unfortunate as Century Link has been proceeding as planned. A joint press conference had been scheduled for July 13 with Governor Perdue at Bertie Middle School,” he added. “This innovative project looks to expand educational opportunities for students and their families as well as greatly expanding broadband access for more than 85 percent of Bertie County.

“The program is good for Bertie County, good for its schools, and good for Century Link, so we hope to get the contract back on track as soon as possible,” he closed.

The board originally gave a green light to the project in February of this year. The intent of the project was to use federal stimulus funds, Title I funds from the federal government and a grant from Golden Leaf to fund the project.

North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue was set to announce the project on Tuesday, but the school board called Monday’s emergency session and cancelled the press conference.

Speculation had been rampant in the two days since that the project was dead, but that now appears to be untrue.

The Bertie County Board of Education is set to meet in a called session today (Thursday) at 5 p.m. The agenda calls for them to go into closed session to discuss personnel matters. It is unclear if Connect Bertie will be addressed at that time.