By Rich Place

The SGI School Board of Education on Tuesday approved a preliminary plan on how the district will spend $1.69 million from the state’s Smart Schools initiative and also agreed to continue conversations about potentially hiring a full-time school resource officer.

JoAnn DePue, director of technology, data and assessment, presented to the school board on the Smart Schools Bond Act, a referendum approved by the state in 2014 to provide funding for school districts to improve technology and infrastructure.

With no deadline and essentially a new administration at SGI when Smart Schools was first approved, district officials took more time than other districts in fine-tuning a plan after realizing the district’s technological needs.

The result is $1.17 million in spending on classroom learning technology that will focus on increasing mobile devices; spending $300,000 on infrastructure improvements and spending $200,000 on network fiber overlay work and improving energy power backup.

“We really have thought about a long-term plan in order to spend this money over time to make it more sustainable for the district,” said DePue.

The bulk of the plan centers around increasing mobile devices — whether it be tablets or Chromebooks, for example — and upgrading labs. The classroom learning technology aspect of the plan retains a five-year replacement plan for devices.

The upgrades will aim to reduce the amount of learning spaces that have students sitting at a desktop computer, facing a wall.

“We are really looking to take a lot of our devices and turn them into a mobile atmosphere,” said DePue. “That allows for a lot of different things. It allows for opening up the classrooms so you’re not tied to a wall, it allows for the ability of sharing, it allows for the mobility to be able to use devices in different ways instead of having to be seated at a station with a chair facing in one direction.”

The plan will also focus on replacing some existing equipment in the district, namely the school’s SmartBoards that are approaching their 10-year expected lifespan.

DePue noted the district has already been working with the capital project team to get security updates into the capital project and has also utilized the e-rate funding to upgrade the school’s wireless systems to prepare for upgrades like those outlined in the Smart Schools plan.

The spending is not expected to take place all at once — as the district has to front the money to be reimbursed by the state — but that overall $1.69 million plan outlines the technology spending over several years.

The plan has been posted on the school’s website, where it will remain for 30 days. The board will then host a public hearing on the plan before giving it final approval to be sent to the state.

ALSO AT the board meeting, Superintendent Kimberly Moritz was granted permission from the board to research the potential hiring of a full-time school resource officer. The school currently has a part-time officer it shares with North Collins.

“The compelling reason for me to recommend a full-time SRO is this: it is impacting our students,” Moritz said. “It bothers me every time I hear about a student who is fearful in our schools and the conversations they are having about what would happen if we had a school shooting and who would be there to take care of it and are our teachers equipped to protect us?

“I think that an SRO can make a big difference as far as being the first person to respond, having that immediate connection to law enforcement and I haven’t taken a stand with you,” Moritz told the board. “I think as a superintendent it is my job to make a recommendation and sometimes to take the hard stand in a controversial area and I do believe we should be moving forward with a full-time SRO.”

The board discussed the idea for about 20 minutes and informally agreed on researching the potential hiring of a full-time SRO. However, it was also a general consensus that an SRO is only part of the overall conversation on school safety and noted it is a complex issue.

“I look at an SRO as not just a measure of making a child feel safe but it’s a safety measure that we need to implement now while we try for a long-term solution,” said school board member Tyler Sullivan.

There was significant conversation, initiated by school board member Jessica Schuster, about examining how the district already offers support staff to students with mental health issues, for example.

Board members that Moritz, in her research of the position, obtain details on the hiring process, costs, impact on the budget and information on how an SRO differs from a traditional police officer. It is expected Moritz will report back to the board at the July or August meeting, potentially with the opportunity to hire a full-time officer before school begins in September.

The next meeting of the SGI School Board of Education will be its reorganizational meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 11 in the high school library.