IT issues rankle school board

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Local News

September 12, 2018 - 11:29 AM

USD 257 Board of Education members Jennifer Coltrane, left, and Jennifer Taylor, listen to a report from David Milhon of k12itc, provider of technology support to the district. The district has been plagued by internet connectivity problems since the start of the school year. Milhon said they can expect those problems to be resolved this week. REGISTER/VICKIE MOSS

Problems with internet connections that have plagued the district since the start of the school year should be resolved this week, USD 257 Board of Education members were told at their meeting Monday night by Superintendent Stacey Fager and the representative of a company that provides technical support.
David Milhon, technology operations manager, with k12itc reassured board members his company is working to fix the issues. He recently visited local schools along with an engineer to find the root of the problem, and said it appeared the district’s internet service through Cox Communications was much slower than expected. The district’s contract with k12itc requires the district provide a high-speed local area network (LAN) connection.
The district had been paying for 1,000 megabytes (1 gigabyte) per second download speed. But tests showed the district was receiving only about 100 megabytes per second, and just 8 to 10 megabytes of wireless connection.
The district pays k12itc $11,146 each month as part of a five-year contract and just entered the second year.
After adjustments were made last week, speeds jumped from 100 to about 800 megabytes and to 100 to 200 megabytes on wireless. Other tweaks to the system should improve connectivity, Milhon said.
The contract with k12itc allows the company up to five days to resolve a problem, but Milhon said most issues could be resolved within an hour. The fastest way to resolve a problem is by calling the IT support line directly.
Board members Jennifer Coltrane and Jennifer Taylor said they were appalled that it could take so long to resolve an issue. Taylor, in particular, had harsh words for the IT company.
“I think we’ve got a problem with what you say and what happens here,” she said. “I feel like your company has lost all credibility. Satisfaction is zero. From the feedback I’ve heard from teachers and staff, they’re not happy. This is a five-year contract. You’re costing us a lot of taxpayer money and we’re not getting that service. This is supposed to be helping our kids and instead it’s hindering them. What are you going to do?”
Milhon said he was sorry the district had encountered so many problems, but said the issues appeared to come from the connection with Cox.
“It wasn’t what we expected. I’m glad we’re at this point now. We have what we need for things to operate the way they’re supposed to,” he said. “I’m so sorry it hasn’t been apparent that we care that much, but we do.”
The district last year implemented an “albert system” through k12itc. The system bundles every aspect of a school’s IT infrastructure, connectivity and maintenance, and the company provides equipment and support.
Last year, similar issues with the system were reported but Milhon said that was just a partial phase for the system, which was fully implemented July 31.
The scope of the problem wasn’t apparent until after that, Milhorn said.
The district logged 421 “tickets,” or complaints about some type of problem, since the system was fully implemented July 31. Most of those, 121 complaints or about 28 percent of the total tickets, were related to “account issues” like not being able to log on because of something like a forgotten password. Other issues include not being able to connect to a printer or some sort of software problem.
Only 9 percent of complaints were for network connectivity. Milhon said he was surprised by that because of the slow internet speeds.

Drug testing
Iola High School students who use drugs could find it a little more difficult to avoid a positive drug test, as the district switches to a urine analysis system.
The change from a cheek-swab method to a urine analysis was announced at Monday’s meeting. School nurse Diana Shinn said the new method would offer the most accurate results and is cost-affordable.
“Urine drug testing is the gold standard,” Shinn said.  
The district adopted a policy last year for random drug testing using the cheek-swab method. But administrators were concerned the method wasn’t effective enough. They plan to test between five and 10 students twice a month, with a goal of sampling about half of the school’s 300 or so students each year.
Superintendent Fager said the goal of random drug testing isn’t to catch students using drugs but to deter them. Students who believe they could be subject to drug testing may be less likely to take drugs. Results of similar efforts at other schools have shown testing programs result in a change in culture and encourage students to say no to drugs, he said.
The iCup urine analysis kit provides several advantages, Shinn said. Precautions include using tamper-evident tape on faucets, blue dye in toilets, removal of outerwear and pocket inspections. The school nurse will stand outside the girls restroom and a male administrator will stand outside the boys restroom. Students will date and initial a security seal, and the contents of the cup will not be visible until it’s taken to a conference room to be read. A photocopy of the results can be made by placing the cup with the results card facedown on the copier.
Positive results will be reported to the principal, Scott Crenshaw.
Board members asked if the school would keep track of how many positive results are found, without revealing the identity of students. It could be useful to collect that information year after year, they said.
The test will identify several illegal substances, including marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, opiates, oxycodone and more.
Board members mostly supported the change, saying they already had a drug testing policy in place and this was just a change in methodology. But Coltrane said she was opposed because she objected to testing in general, saying, “I don’t think it’s our job to be an investigative body. I was more OK with the mouth swab but I can see it’s not effective.”
The change was approved but did not require a vote.

IN OTHER NEWS, board members:
— Approved a request from Humanity House to allow it to benefit from a Neighborhood Revitalization Program tax abatement for improvements to its new building. The request came after the program’s deadline, which meant it needed special approval by taxing entities.
— Heard a report from SJCF Architecture representatives about the timeline and plans for new buildings and improvements through a bond issue. The report took a look at actions that have led up to this point and suggested next steps such as offering meetings throughout the community to gauge interest in some of the options to build a new elementary school and/or renovate existing buildings.
— Heard preliminary enrollment numbers show a drop in students, as expected. Fager said some classes had dropped to about 70 total students, which could lead to debate over how many teachers are needed for elementary classes. The district currently has about five teachers per grade level. If the average number of total students drops to around 60, they’ll probably cut that to four teachers per grade level, he said. Official enrollment numbers won’t be available until students are counted across the state on Sept. 20.
— Heard a report about preschool and kindergarten programs from McKinley Elementary School principal Angie Linn. The district’s preschool program currently has 28 students, with 25 of those considered at-risk because of factors that make it more challenging for a student to succeed in school. The district has been approved to fund 23 students because of the at-risk status, and can accept up to 30 students in total.
Kindergarten teachers this year implemented a new program to help students identify their emotional state. Linn said teachers are excited about the program, and it already has helped teachers better identify when students are frustrated and struggling in class.

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