Highland News Leader

Highland School Board opts to spend $408k rather than 'go back to chalkboards'

A student at Highland Primary School stretches to write on a Promethean board during a math lesson.
A student at Highland Primary School stretches to write on a Promethean board during a math lesson. mbraa@bnd.com

The Highland School Board approved over a half a million dollars worth of expenditures for next school year during its meeting last week.

"At least we made some progress in several areas," said Jim Gallatin, the board's president.

While this costs include the addition of full-time school resource officer, and a one-time start-up fee for a show choir, the lion's share of the cost is from 80 new interactive white boards. The estimated total project cost for buying and installing the boards is $408,040, according to Matt Fredericksen, the the district's chief educational technology officer.

During a the board meeting on March 26, Fredericksen gave an updated presentation on the purchasing opportunities to replace 75 aging Promethean boards within the district.

"The problem we are trying to solve is lost instructional time," Fredericksen said.

The smart boards, which are all almost 10-years-old, have a slue of problems, according to Fredericksen. The problems include poor connectivity and calibration due to the boards having to utilize multiple components such as a projector, computer, speakers and cables. The boards' projectors also have poor quality, and issues with brightness due to pixel deterioration, and project large shadows when students use them, according to Fredericksen. Due to these issues, he said the district's tech support requests were also up 45 percent.

"I think we can all agree that there are a lot of problems," Gallatin said.

Fredericksen first brought this problem to the board in January. At that time, he advised the board to replace the technology with brand new 75-inch 4K Promethean ActivPanels, which cost $4,400 each, or 70-inch screen HD versions of the same panel for $3,600 each.

For his first choice, the 75-inch panels, Fredericksen initially estimated the total project cost to be about $440,000. This cost would include some movable stands, which cost $1,400 each and vertical adjustment mounts, which cost $750 each. After hearing the estimate, the board instructed Fredericksen to research cheaper options.

The board also wanted teachers' opinions to play a heavy part in the decision making.

In answer to the board's request, Fredericksen conducted an interactive panel showcase on March 2. During the showcase, a group of pre-K through fifth-grade teachers viewed presentations of five different interactive panels.

The teachers were asked to the pros and cons of each board and to rank them. At the end of the showcase, Fredericksen's top pick, the Promethean ActivPanel still reigned as top choice, with 75 percent of favor from the teachers.

"I think the teachers, very clearly, have spoken," Fredericksen said.

Fredericksen brought his top three recommendations back to the board:

  • Buy 80, 75 inch 4K ActivPanels, 25 adjustable mounts and 5 mobile carts estimated to cost $408,040;
  • Buy 80, 70 inch HD ActivPanels, 25 adjustable mounts and 5 mobile carts estimated to cost $351,540; or

  • Buy 80, 70 inch HD ActivPanels with static wall mounts and no mobile carts estimated to cost $328,920;

After discussion, the board unanimously voted to allow the $408,040 purchase.

"Either that, or we go back to chalkboards. I don't think we want to do that, guys," said board member David Raymond.

The board also decided to make the purchase in bulk, as Fredericksen said he was able to secure $42,000 worth of discounts for a one-time purchase. The cost also includes five free days of teacher training, which has a value of $9,955, according to Fredericksen.

Fredericksen estimated that the panels could have a life of 20 years, though he said planned for it to be a 10-year investment. The purchase will be made with money out of the district's Working Cash Fund. But five panels will be paid for by the district's technology department, according to Fredericksen.

The district will install the panels at the elementary and primary schools over the summer, according to Fredericksen. He said the district will do its best to re-purpose the usable gear left behind from the old boards, including amps, projectors and cabling. He also said some of the newer panels could be sold to other schools or vendors.

Fredericksen also informed the board that there are still other tech needs at other schools, including Google Chromebook replacements for individual student use in sixth though 12th grade.

Personnel changes

The board approved a number of personnel changes, including one RIF, a new union contract with Highland Education Support Personnel Association (HESPA), retirements, new personnel, and one change in assignment. T

School resource officer

The board moved to pursue staffing a school resource officer for next school year. The board has been deliberating whether or not to staff this position for the last several months.

The board changed its Risk Management Plan to include 100 percent of the salary for the position. Sutton said by doing this, the district will be able to pay the officer's salary using money from its Tort Fund, which can be levied if additional funds are needed.

The Highland Police Department has agreed to pick up 25 percent of the officer's salary. It is estimated the position will cost about $95,000, and Superintendent Mike Sutton has said that the district would like to make the position a long-term commitment.

Fastenal lease

The board tabled an agenda item that would fill one of the district's properties being vacated by its current tenant, Core Elite Tumble and Cheer.

The cheer company used to occupy a district administration building located at 400 Broadway, which was once home to Jakel Manufacturing. Core Elite recently moved its operations into the old Wicks Pipe Organ factory, located at 1100 5th St. in Highland, as Wicks Organ Company moved its location across the street to 16 Pine St.

Sutton said that having Core Elite as a tenant gained the district about $80,000 a year, and the district did not want to lose that revenue.

A local company called Fastenal, a local fastener supplier and manufacturer, expressed interest in leasing the entire space, according to Sutton. The lease approval was on the agenda for the March board meeting. However,the district's Business Manager Tim Bair said the district did not receive a signed copy of the lease before the meeting.

Show choir approved

The board gave first-year music teachers Andrew Gibb-Clark and Tyler Jewell the green light to continue building a competitive show choir program.

The board also approved a one-time program start-up cost of $60,000 to help get the choir off the ground. The money will be used to buy new risers, lighting and sound equipment, arrangements, costumes and others equipment the teachers said they need to make the program competitive.

Currently, 51 students participate in the show choir, which will have its first performance at the end of the HHS Cabaret on April 20. Auditions for next years' choir will be held in May.

Lice policy amended

The board amended its head lice policy.

The district used to send out notification letters to parents if there was two or more cases of live lice on primary school students.

Now for each case of live head lice at the elementary and primary grade levels, a notification letter will be sent out to parents of students in the effected students class.

Costa Rica trip

The board discussed an out-of-country trip being planned for the summer of 2019. If approved, the primarily biology-based trip will take students to Costa Rica for eight days. The trip would be curated by Holbrook Travel.

The cost of the trip is estimated to range from $1,795 to $1,925, depending on the number of travelers going on the trip. The more travelers that go, the less expensive the trip will be. The cost would cover all activities and meals mentioned in the itinerary, a full-time guide, private transportation and driver, and carbon offset costs.

Trip insurance discussion

The board decided to pay for student insurance for out-of-country trips. The board approved an insurance rate of $3,694.

The district's Business Manager Tim Bair was able to negotiate the rate for a 13-month period, so the rate will cover the two out-of-country trips scheduled for next school year, and the 2019 Costa Rica trip, if it is approved.

Unfinished calendar business

The board approved end of the year calender information.

The last day of school will be May 17, which will have a half-day dismissal for teacher in-service.

The Highland High School 2017-2018 graduation ceremony was also scheduled for May 20 at 2 p.m.

Policy

The board held the first reading for three policies up for review. The policies up for review are:

  • 2:250 School Board—Uniform Grievance Procedure
  • 4:40 Operational Services—Incurring Debt
  • 5:20 General Personnel—Workplace Harassment Prohibited

Some of the proposed changes are grammatical, but others are clarifications made to the complaint process. If the policies are adopted the board would have 30 days to respond to a sexual harassment complaint if it involves the superintendent.

2018-2019 fees approved

The board approved the district fees for the 2018-2019 school year. No fees were increased from the 2017-2018 school year. The district's Business Manager Tim Bair said the district has maintained these amounts since the 2013-2014 school year.

The approval includes a schedule for the due dates for all athletic activity fees.

Membership renewed

The board approved the annual renewal of the district's Illinois High School Association membership. The board is required to do this each year to participate in IHSA activities.

Insurance company approved

The board approved Markel Insurance Company to provide student accident insurance for district families. Markel provides an opportunity for families to insure their kids for activities during the school year.

The school is not involved in any transaction between the family and the insurer.

Parchment contract

The board approved a contract with a company called Parchment.

Parchment will provide the district with an online transcript service. The service allows transcripts to be requested online, which Sutton said decreases the labor at the Highland High School office as they provide hundreds of transcripts each year. In 2017, 518 transcripts were processed in-house at the high school.

The cost for the service is $3,000 per year. However, Sutton said the cost is currently being paid by the state of Illinois, which means the district would incur no cost as long as the state continues to pay it.

Currently, students have no free to access their transcript. Under the new service, HHS alumni will pay $5, of which $1.85 will come back to the district.

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