The board also unanimously voted to pay the N.C. School Boards Association $4,500 plus expenses to help conduct the search for a superintendent and passed a resolution in support of raising the mandatory attendance age from 16 to 18.
The largest grant, worth $7.5 million, is from the Schools and Libraries Corporation and will provide money for telecommunications, Internet access and infrastructure.
"By increasing the band width available at each school, the Public Schools of Robeson County will speed up access to information for students and teachers," Harding said.
Since 1998, the school system has received $20 million in grants from the E-rate program. Todd Russ, technology director, said some of the money has been used to install computer servers at each school and buy cellular phones and pagers for each principal.
A federal grant for $1.5 million will be used attract, hire and retain "highly qualified" teachers and provide training for administrators, Harding said. A federal grant for $500,000 will be used to hire a reading specialist at each high school to provide remediation.
The board talked briefly about the superintendent search, but no action was taken other than the approval of the contract to hire the N.C. School Boards Association. The board had voted 9-1, with Gloria Lowery voting against, on July 11 to hire the association.
Much of the discussion came in response to comments some board members made in an article published in Sunday's edition of The Robesonian. At least two board members -- Terry Smith and Steve Martin -- said they believe there is an attempt to delay the superintendent search until after the Sept. 10 school board election.
Board Chairman Mike Smith reiterated Monday night that the search is being conducted as scheduled, according to the N.C. School Boards Association's timeline. He also said he was misquoted as saying a N.C. School Boards Association representative would meet with the board Monday night. He said that only the contract issue would be on the agenda.
"It disturbs me a little bit that the whole article was ran yesterday (Sunday)," Smith said. "I think sometimes we get premature in some of our actions. I would think you would report after-the-fact instead of trying to generate stories.
"I would rather that we discuss such issues in detail tonight as we sit here as a board," he said. "I don't like to talk outside the house. I have no authority over the position. I only have the authority of the full board."
The association's timeline says that, during August and September, the school board should hold community forums, surveys and other meetings to identify characteristics of the new superintendent. None of those actions have been scheduled.
Terry Smith said the board is "dragging its feet" with the search. "It shouldn't take a month or three meetings to do this process," he said.
Board member James DeFreece agreed.
"Maybe we should take some lessons from Robeson Community College," said DeFreece, referring to the community college's search for a replacement of longtime President Fred Williams.
Board members Patrick Bullard and Robert Deese said the search is moving along as planned.
The board voted to send a resolution to the N.C. General Assembly asking it to raise the mandatory attendance age from 16 to 18.
School officials say raising the mandatory attendance age will reduce the number of dropouts. Robeson County had the highest drop-out rate in the state -- 7.23 percent of students in the seventh through 12th grades -- during the 2000-2001 school year. The statewide average was 3.86 percent for that year.
The resolution says that students who earn a diploma before they are 18 should be exempt. Board member Terry Smith asked for a copy of the resolution to be sent to the state Department of Public Instruction and various educational committees.
In other business, the board unanimously agreed that a hall at Magnolia School should be named in honor of the late James Heater Hammonds, who was a longtime assistant principal at the school.