During a special city commission meeting on Tuesday, the City of Brownsville voted to table an item that would authorize the city manager to enter and execute a CARES Relief Funding Agreement with the Brownsville Independent School District after BISD requested funding to join efforts to fund Operation Connectivity.
In a letter sent by BISD Superintendent Rene Gutierrez to Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez and City Manager Noel Bernal, Gutierrez stated that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, students have not attended schools in person since March 13. Operation Connectivity will provide students with devices and hotspots to remotely access instruction as well as additional special programmatic support including special services modifications, dyslexia accommodations and more.
“Due to the high poverty rate and the lack of connectivity, a high number of students exist who do not have sufficient devices in the household to access instruction,” the letter reads.
During the meeting, BISD stated the Texas Education Agency will match the funds that local authorities, such as cities and counties, put toward the bulk order, with a maximum of 25 percent of the total bulk purchase amount.
BISD has 4,000 Apple iPads, 2,000 Dell Laptops and 2,000 Verizon Hotspots as pending. Funds received from TEA, the city and/or county will be put toward that purchase, which totals $3,008,000.
“Anything would help,” BISD officials said during the meeting.
According to the presentation, the maximum amount that BISD can receive by the city and county is $1,132,875 and TEA will match it.
Operation Connectivity is a partnership between Gov. Greg Abbott, the Dallas Independent School District and the Texas Education Agency that intends to connect all of Texas’s 5.5 million public school students with a device and a reliable internet connection.
During the meeting, Mendez said the issues BISD is facing right now with its students exposed the real issue Brownsville has, which is connectivity throughout the city. Mendez said the city intends to lay a fiber in Brownsville that would grant internet access as a long-term goal.
“This has exposed a real issue, which is the connectivity throughout the city, and because this pandemic hit us and we were obviously not expecting something like this, we had to kind of pivot and figure out ways to get people connected and be able to learn remotely,” Mendez said.
“This also shows how important the city’s plan is for the broadband and the digital divide … what the city intends to do is lay a fiber in the city as opposed as WiFi or hotspots … I can understand that this is a quick fix, kind of like a band-aid solution to get everybody connected and we are working on a long-term solution.”
Commissioner Rose Gowen said the commission will have an answer for BISD by the next city meeting, which will take place next Tuesday.
“That we have an answer for you by then, or at least at that time, so that we can have time to look at the numbers and we can all understand them and decide on an amount but no later than Oct. 6,” Gowen said.