Whether to charge students technology fees was the main focus of discussion among Parsons USD 503 board members Monday night as they moved to approve new technology and one-to-one policies.
For years the school district has forgone charging students enrollment or textbook fees, understanding the financial difficulties many families in the area face.
However, as the district has moved into providing every student in the district with a computer this fall, known as one-to-one or one computer to one student, costs associated with maintaining, repairing and potentially replacing the computers if damaged, lost or stolen were brought to the table.
Technology director Ben McGuire told the board annual costs to maintain the computers are estimated at $65,000. He said the district could cover the costs or have students share in the costs as most districts do. McGuire told the board the $65,000 in technology costs could be covered if the district charged each student a usage fee of $50. Larger families would have to pay a maximum of $150 per household. If students damaged a computer, McGuire suggested they would have to pay $100 maximum, or actual repair cost, whichever is lowest. If computers were claimed lost or stolen, students would be required to pay the replacement cost of $300, as all insurance options investigated have been cost prohibitive.
Board member Lou Martino voiced his concerns about the financial hardship the fees would place on many families, especially since COVID-19 has resulted in numerous parents losing their jobs. Martino said he isn’t suggesting students and parents not be held responsible, but he said this year in particular, perhaps families should be given a financial break.
Superintendent Lori Ray said she understands Martino’s concerns, but if students are going to have the privilege of one-to-one technology, there has to be “some skin in the game.”
Martino said the district could face a problem with every student having a computer if their parents don’t have the money to pay the upfront fee.
Like other districts’ enrollment fees, Ray said the fee is not something families could opt out of because the computers are integrated into daily instruction. Every student would be required to pay the fees.
A couple of board members commented that between now and the start of school parents could plan and budget for the costs, but Olivia Lyons and Martino noted that is not the way budgets work for those living at or near poverty levels.
The board admitted there are many unknowns about what they are going to face in regard to students taking computers home.
McGuire said the only one-to-one use the district has had was at Garfield School. Usage was very limited, and computers remained in the building. Each year at schools they see a few devices broken. However, he said, with one-to-one usage, data shows with students taking the computers home chances of breakage increases 300%. A student just putting a computer in their backpack increases the chances of breakage 150%. Because of that, McGuire said some districts just require the students to purchase the computers outright.
Again, McGuire told the board he doesn’t care what amount they choose to charge families as long as the board was going to cover the costs of maintaining the computers for the one-to-one technology plan it approved. He did tell the board his proposal to them is lower than most districts charge.
“We have to start somewhere and this is our first year,” Joan Thompson said to the other board members, noting they should collect data this year and then they can alter the policy next year if needed.
Martino suggested that maybe for this year because the district got a financial boost from the federal government to help buy some of the computers, they could lower the usage fee to $25 per student and have a maximum of $75 per household.
Various amounts were discussed on repair fees before the board landed on a maximum of $75.
Board members didn’t want the costs so low it trivialized students’ and parents’ responsibility to care for the equipment.
After considerable discussion, it was decided the $300 replacement fee would stand if a computer was claimed lost or stolen, and a police report would have to be filed. For extenuating circumstances, like a fire, the district would consider working with the family.
Calls are already coming into the district office to notify it of decisions by some people not to substitute teach this year.
Ray said it is difficult to find substitutes, given many are a lot older, placing them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
Currently, Ray said, the district has two full-time substitutes, but she was delving into the board’s willingness for 2021 to hire two or three additional full-time substitutes. Ray’s reasoning is the district would be able to control where substitutes went, they could count on them being available every day, and it would be easier tracing their contacts if there were one assigned to each building.
She said with the state requiring everyone’s temperature be taken before entering the building every day, and the need for masks to be washed, even if the subs were not needed to teach one day, there is plenty they could assist with.
“I really think we’d be able to find things for them to do,” Ray said.
Currently, including insurance and other benefits, substitutes earn just under $30,000. Adding three more at that pay would be $90,000 in additional costs.
There was talk that perhaps the district could possible use federal coronavirus relief funds to help cover their wages.
Martino said if the district were willing to pay $150 a day, it would surely have people willing to serve as substitutes, though that was met with some opposition as the costs would have to be calculated. As schools are scheduled to reopen buildings, it appears they are going to have a higher demand for substitutes, but if teaching is remote, no one will be coming to work, possibly reducing the need for subs. If teachers should get sick, there is a potential they could go on paid time off, and there is a need to make sure coverage for classrooms is available.
Consistency of a sub in each building would help, Thompson said.
The fact remains that it is unknown if the district can even find additional subs.
Four people have called and said they couldn’t sub.
The board decided to table the decision until its special budget meeting.
In other business, the board:
— Heard teaching summer school online to the 20 students enrolled has presented some struggles.
— Heard Kansas Reading Roadmap was not funded for 2021.
— Heard there will be a facilities team meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
— Heard a couple of board members met on July 10 with administration, Parsons Recreation Commission Director Gary Crissman, retired NFL quarterback Shaun Hill and Pat LaForge of LaForge and Budd Construction to walk the layout for a sports complex near Parsons High School that would be mostly funded by Hill’s foundation. Crissman was instructed to move forward with acquiring written plan estimates, timelines and other documentation to present to the board.
— Heard Ray’s report that emergency seclusion intervention regarding holds that can be used on students is determined by state legislation. Ray reported none of those holds are holds used by law enforcement. When it comes to the school resource officer, no law enforcement holds would be performed on a student unless the resource officer was required to cross the fine line and react to a situation as a police officer, but that is a most unlikely situation given the deescalation training everyone goes through.
— Heard the State Board of Education will vote Wednesday on whether schools cannot start until on or after Sept. 9. If they vote against Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order, Parsons schools would begin Aug. 17. The governor’s other order is a health and safety executive order that doesn’t have to be approved, so all K-12 staff, teachers, students and visitors will be required to wear a mask except children age 5 and under who are not students, children under age of 2 or people who cannot wear a mask for medical reasons. It is also mandated that 6-foot social distancing be maintained and hand sanitizer be available in every classroom. Temperatures of everyone entering the building for the first time for each day must be taken. Given these mandates, schools will probably limit access to buildings.
— Heard schools still will be obligated to have students attend 1,116 hours. Based on the late start, the district calendar would have 1,073 days, leaving it 43 hours short. The district is considering ways to make up the missing seven days, such as shortening spring break or having students attend school on Columbus Day, so that the school year could still end before June.
— Heard high school and middle school principals have returned to work as have all secretaries.
— Heard new teacher orientation will be on Aug. 5.
— Approved meeting at 10 a.m. Aug. 10 in the PHS vocational/technical building to approve the budget for publication.
— Approved student and staff handbooks on a vote of 6-1. Martino voted against approval as he said they do not define how people are supposed to social distance when performing fire, tornado and intruder drills.
— Approved the Kansas State Department of Education e-cigarette/vaping disciplinary policy.
— Hired Sarah Hilger as Lincoln School secretary, Mark Long as maintenance technician, Rhonda Murphy as bus driver, Stacie Nelson as middle school secretary, Robyn Thomas as mental health liaison, Travis Ward as middle school evening custodian and Glen Windler as bus driver.
— Accepted the resignations of John Keene, bus driver. and Kelly Keys, middle school eighth-grade language arts teacher.
— Approved termination of Wayne Reel II as the high school head custodian.