|School board releases five-year plan|
|Thursday, March 24, 2011|
By Corey Conley
Marked “Draft Only - Under Review,” the first version of the school board’s five-year capital outlay plan has emerged from the Facilities and Maintenance Committee.
Although the report still has some placeholder figures, it presents a rough outline of the committee’s priorities for the next half-decade. From the mundane business of replacing school buses to an aggressive plan for modernizing the district’s use of technology, the plan details some of the most important - and priciest - expenditures by the schools.
The board is not the only audience for the report.
“What we’re trying to do is give the County Commission an updated list with the best actual numbers we can,” said Facilities and Maintenance Committee chairman, Danny Hale. The commission is the funding body for the district.
Hale was referring specifically to the price-tag for a new high school and elementary school.
He took care to point out the figure of $50 M - “the largest single item in the plan”– was merely a “placeholder,” and no action had been taken.
When and where each school gets built will be determined by an architectural study, according to Hale.
“Their priority is high school first, then elementary or middle depending on where our growth numbers are,” said the district six representative. The decision would be “staff driven,” he reassured.
However, he affirmed the need to invest in old buildings. “It would be lovely to build a new high school and we’re certainly not far from needing that, but we have schools with leaky roofs and windows busted out,” said Hale, who noted that “governments usually do a pretty good job building a structure, but a pretty poor job of maintaining it over the long haul.”
Another major item was the $3.4 million budgeted for additions at Station Camp High School. The money would cover the cost of two additional wings with eight classrooms each, and an expansion for the cafeteria. The board had already discussed adding a single wing, but Station Camp already has eight teachers without classrooms. The new classrooms would likely fill as soon as they were completed. Under the plan, each wing is estimated to cost $1.55 million, and the cafeteria expansion is budgeted at $300,000.
Over $13 million dollars will be needed to replace the schools’ aging bus fleet. According to Hale, the district has gone three years without purchasing new buses. Many are rapidly approaching their 15-year life cycle, and the plan calls for 28 new buses to replace old ones. The plan estimates that the district will grow by 500 students a year, and even more buses will be needed.
Although the technology plan drafted by the district’s Technology Coordinator Bryce Embry asked for a relatively modest $6.78 million, the detailed study represented nearly half of the capital outlay plan. The report praised the board for their leadership on some technology issues, but called for more to avoid the “chaos” that happens when schools “fend for themselves” with technology.
“In the past the district has left each school to develop their own solution for technology. In this plan the district assumes the burden of technology leadership by investing in standardized, effective solutions to improve our educational and administrative processes district wide,” reads the report.
The recommendations in the report are drawn from across the school system. Maintenance, operation, and technology staff commented on infrastructure, and teachers, principals, other instruction staff all provided input.
An email survey to teachers garnered 200 responses that reflected the disparities between the technology available at different schools. According to the report, some schools have “modern multimedia systems, a laptop for every teacher, and a vibrant technology infrastructure. At other schools you will find teachers begging for cast-off computers from local businesses and converting storage closets into computer labs.”
The report laid out a detailed analysis of the responses and data, and issued recommendations to bring more technology into the management and instruction areas. The study’s first point would not cost the district anything - it simply asks the board to create a new technology standardization policy. The bulk of the proposal’s price tag would be the $4 million to renovate the network infrastructure and $1.5 million to better equip schools with standard technology.
The plan called for greater use of technology to streamline human resources, student record keeping, and securing a data warehouse system. It also suggested upgrading the school’s backup and disaster recovery systems and school email accounts for students.
The last cost for the capital outlay plan was the $500,000 allotted to improve and update the district’s telecommunications system.