Board of Education reluctant to increase staffing

LEXINGTON – While the Lexington Board of Education is reluctant to increase staffing levels within Lexington Public Schools, they are set to move forward with technology advancement, namely in the form of gradually replacing student laptops with iPads.

At the meeting of the school board Monday night, Bo Berry, Director of Buildings and Grounds for LPS, requested two more staff members, telling the board with the department’s workload, they only have time for current projects rather than prevention.

“We are more of a fire department than a maintenance department,” Berry quipped.

Berry would like to see one of the two positions be filled by a plumber, saying that is one area LPS maintenance is excessively lacking.

After asking questions about job duties, cost expense, savings and budgeting, board members elected to table the discussion until the May meeting of the board of education.

“This decision may affect the next [staffing] decision,” said board member Jeff Wightman.

The next staffing decision was a request to add a high school assistant principal, two English language learner teachers, a high school integration specialist, one elementary school counselor and two special education teachers, all at a cost of nearly $485,000 including benefit packages.

“This is a jolt, especially since we were figuring out how we were going to cut $2 million in spending two years ago,” said board member Rod Reynolds.

Again, board members questioned job duties, expense and budgeting, but this time the questions were fielded by Lexington High School Principal Kyle Hoehner and LPS Superintendent Todd Chessmore.

Reynolds added the request didn’t come through the usual channels, namely the finance committee.

The motion failed, receiving just one yes vote.

Upon the recommendation of LPS Director of Technology Kristi Jergensen, the school board will not purchase 400 new laptops for students next year, but instead will purchase 300 MacBook Pros and 300 iPads for teaching staff. The package is expected to cost $443,983.

Computer upgrades have been budgeted for each year for the past four years, but recently the technology department has been taking a hard look at Apple’s iPad.

“Everything is moving toward mobile devices,” Jergensen said, “the iPad is considered a mobile device.”

Jergensen advised the board the big textbook companies such as McGraw Hill are driving textbooks from the traditional hardbound books into digital form and that 90 percent of the other publishers are on board with doing the same.

While Jergensen doesn’t expect the district to save much on these textbooks, the cost of a student laptop is approximately $900, whereas the price of an iPad is roughly half of that.

The teachers will need the MacBook Pros for their Power School application, but students will use only iPads.

The expectation is the teacher’s current laptops will go back into the classroom to replace the original 2008 series student laptops and then in the following year, as laptops are phased out through planned obsolescence, they will be replaced by iPads.

The cost savings of this year’s purchase is nearly $40,000.

In another cost saving move, board members authorized the purchase of an electronic access control system for the four elementary schools at the cost of $33,814. The system would replace traditional key operated locks at the schools with electronically controlled card readers, which can be programmed to allow select staff into all buildings or limit them to only certain buildings.

Berry said the cost to deprogram a lost card and replace it is minimal.

“It costs us a dollar,” Berry said. “To replace a key, which we are having to do now, is between $1,500 and $1,800. That’s for the parts, it doesn’t include the labor.”

In other business:

Board members listened to a concern from teacher Sheri Giesbrecht in regard to the availability of the community auditorium during school hours. Because state mandated student testing is conducted in the middle school library, the auditorium is not open for use, especially for loud functions such as concert rehearsals. Giebrecht told the board when dealing with elementary students, rehearsing at one location and holding the final concert in another was just not feasible and the auditorium needed to be available.

Chessmore agreed it was a no-win situation, but did not offer a solution.

The school board also passed the first reading of a wellness policy that would allow teachers and select staff to be paid for eight hours of wellness leave per year if they brought in documentation showing they had a physical exam, a dental check up or a vision test, among others.

According to the initiator of the program, Chief Financial Officer Erin Heineman, the program would be a way to motivate staff to get the examinations that might keep them well and help cut down on sick time. The estimated cost of hiring substitute teachers, if there was 100 percent teacher participation, was estimated at $38,000.

Also approved was the recommendation to allow the Lexington Community Facilities Agency to accept private donations for the construction of a shared-use recreation facility at the Lexington Middle School. Private donations will be matched by the Lexington Community Foundation, a gift that could be worth $3 million.

In final discussion, board member Kent Gydesen expressed condolences to teacher Kirk Psota and his family on the recent death of his wife, Janet. Fellow board members concurred.

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