ELY – School board members here Monday night agreed to move forward with expanding plans for implementing technology in the classroom, made even more necessary this spring when students were …
ELY – School board members here Monday night agreed to move forward with expanding plans for implementing technology in the classroom, made even more necessary this spring when students were sent home due to caution over the coronavirus pandemic and teachers were thrust into a distance learning environment.
Termed the “One-to-One Initiative,” the program is intended to provide all students in ISD 696 with equal access to technology.
Superintendent Erik Erie said providing an electronic learning device for each student as technology tools become integrated in classrooms was an important factor in the district’s 21st Century Learning proposal to the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation for referendum support.
“Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and we were forced to go into distance learning mode,” Erie said. “Having to rely on a great deal of technology to provide learning engagement with our students during distance learning, it became very evident that many of our students and families lacked access to technology.”
Erie said as many as 130 devices were distributed to Ely students this spring to address those inequalities.
When the One-to-One Initiative was introduced, administrators and technology personnel expected to have the luxury of considerable time to study how such a program could be implemented in the classroom. Distance learning protocols forced them to address technology inequities more quickly. COVID-19 is still the driving factor as the district looks to the start of the new school year and the very real possibility of continuing distance learning.
Federal funding through the economic stimulus CARES Act and school budget adjustments and transfers, made available through executive orders from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz with guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Education, opened new financial opportunities.
Board members this week were presented with a preliminary budget for the 2020-21 school year that included a proposal to use approximately $375,000 in CARES Act funding and reserved fund balance transfers for the One-to-One Initiative.
Erie proposed combining a one-time federal CARES Act grant of more than $87,500 with $75,000 of transfers from the federal grant, and monies from a variety of reserved fund balances, including basic skills, $200,000, gifted and talented, $60,000, and staff development, $40,000, to pay for the program.
“These fund balances have grown over many years,” said ISD 696 business manager Spencer Aune in an audio presentation to board members, “and the use of them will not affect current programming or the unreserved fund balances for the next fiscal year.”
Board member James Pointer asserted he had a hard time understanding the implementation of the One-to-One Initiative and how it would impact the budget for next year.
“There is no real proposal there,” he said. “We didn’t have a discussion on how it would be implemented. There is no example of how you are going to alleviate the internet concerns we have here in rural America. I personally would like to see a full-blown proposal breaking down on what the true expenses are, how you are going to implement this, and what kind of training there will be for teachers.”
Pointer noted that he is not in favor of the One-to-One Initiative.
“A lot of research that I’m reading says to get kids off of technology and get them away from it as much as we can and now the school is going to give them technology for five days a week, six hours a day. Personally, I don’t think that is the right thing,” he said.
Board member Heidi Mann highlighted concerns voiced by an Ely teacher over decimating the Gifted and Talented program funds.
“He said he feels good about where the program was heading in terms of using those reserves to establish a Gifted and Talented program and wants us to think carefully in making a decision,” she said.
Erie explained that planning was being accomplished on the Gifted and Talented program when the coronavirus hit.
“That was actually part of our collaboration plan with one of our neighboring schools,” he said. He noted that as much as $7,900 is put into that fund each year, so reserves will continue to build until needed.
“We have an opportunity now to use these fund balance transfers,” Erie said. “That’s why we picked them apart now. Spencer and I went over the reserve funds. We are still able to offer programming in those areas.”
Erie proposed using $60,000 of the $70,000 balance in the Gifted and Talented fund.
“We will have close to $18,000 ($10,000 balance plus $7,900 in the 2020-2021 budget year) sitting in there with nothing to do because we don’t have a program now,” he said.
Mann proposed approving the One-to-One Initiative in a broad way and expected a more detailed proposal to consider in the near future.
Board chair Ray Marsnik agreed with Mann’s suggestion.
“I think we could (approve the fund transfers) and move forward with the One-to-One Initiative and eventually look at a plan with all the details,” he said.
Board members agreed.
In other action, the board:
• Approved a lease agreement with Happy Days Preschool for the 2020-21 school year and authorized a discount of $1,000 due to lost revenue when school was closed because of the coronavirus.
• Approved a 2020-21 school year contract with Arrowhead Regional Computing Consortium.
• Approved annual premiums of $167,245 to Vaaler Insurance for the 2020-21 school year.
• Approved quotes from Dean Foods for milk products, Pan-O-Gold Baking Co. for bread products, Lucky Boy Services for snow removal services, and Superior Fuel Co. for propane for the 2020-21 school year.
• Tabled approval of the middle school/high school 2020-21 schedule until further information is provided.
• Hired Holly Sherman as Memorial School secretary, beginning Aug. 11.
• Accepted the resignation of bus driver Ron Rikkola.
• Approved a request from Ely Community Education to use the pickle ball courts, following Department of Health COVID-19 guidelines.
• Tabled a request for payment for unused vacation days from the district’s at-will employees, and a request from the Ely Principalss Association, Ely Education Association and AFSCME employees to carry over unused personal days into the 2020-21 school year.