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District approves $252K for technology

Although Monday’s school board meeting appeared to be business as usual, the directors seemed to unintentionally answer objections raised by opponents of the November bond initiative as they discussed (and approved) two measures going to the heart of those arguments: the allocation of Capital Improvement Funds, and teacher pay.

The Archuleta School District 50 Jt. Board of took a big step Monday to improve the district’s aging technology infrastructure.

According to John Kennedy, district technology director, numerous student desktop computers currently run on operating systems incompatible with upgraded district software.

In light of this, Kennedy asked for (and received) $252,000 in Capital Improvement funds to purchase “Virtual Desktop Integration” (VDI) components that will allow computers with outdated operating systems to run on a server-based platform, thus allowing those computers to handle software incompatible with obsolete operating systems.

Kennedy said that, rather than purchasing new desktop computers (with an estimated cost of $1,000 each), the work-around would decrease costs to about $300 per computer as the district installed VDI components. Those components would also decrease the district’s energy usage (and costs), Kennedy said, as work stations phase out from individual PC towers to server-based terminals.

The latter was noted as a benefit given the outdated electrical infrastructure in the elementary, middle and junior high school buildings. Those electrical systems were installed decades before computers became an integral part of secondary education.

Regarding the potential for technology improvements in the schools, District Superintendent Mark DeVoti said, “This is about as tapped out as it gets as far as upgrades in K-8.”

Approving Kennedy’s request for over a quarter-million dollars for technology upgrades in the schools, the board didn’t acknowledge the delicate balancing act it is charged with regarding capital improvements: providing area students with infrastructure to keep pace with demands of 21st-century expectations versus continued maintenance needs of the buildings.

Teacher pay

Given assurances by DeVoti and District Business Manager Janelle Wood that the district’s General Fund was in good shape (following news from a recent state audit as well as the award of over $400,000 in Secure Rural Schools funding from the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners), the board approved boosting incomes for district teachers with a 3-percent increase.

That increase included a raise in base pay, as well as an approval for step pay (automatic pay increases given with tenure). With earlier step increases approved last spring, district teachers have realized about a 5-percent increase in pay in 2011 (Monday’s pay increase takes effect in November).

DeVoti told the board that cost-cutting measures taken by the board following decreases in state funding for the district allowed for additional money to pay teachers.

Earlier this year, the district offered a Voluntary Separation Incentive Agreement (VSIA) option to tenured teachers, allowing the district to buy out contracts of those teachers and allowing for the hiring of younger teachers (at lower pay). The VSIA option was a onetime offer and it remains to be seen if the district will pursue that cost-saving option for the 2011-2012 school year.

New director

During a special meeting Monday night, held prior to the regular meeting, the board selected a new director to fill the seat vacated by Bill Nobles in July.

Pete Kasper, lead water commissioner in Pagosa Springs for the Division of Water Resources, was chosen to fill Nobles’ seat until November 2013.

The director selection was made at the start of Monday’s school board meeting. Interviews with two candidates were conducted at a preceding special meeting which followed a presentation by Paula Stephenson of the Colorado Rural Schools Caucus.

Two candidates met with the board for consideration to fill the vacant director’s seat — Kasper and local resident Tim Taylor.

Kasper cited his previous experience as an educator and participation on various education boards and committees.

Taylor cited his professional experience, his participation on the School Accountability and Advisory Committee and the fact he has three children enrolled in the district.

“I have deep concerns with the educational system,” Taylor said at the start of his interview.

Taylor added, “We have to attract quality teachers with salaries and with facilities.”

In fact, as Taylor concluded his interview, he read statements from two of his children (both enrolled at Pagosa Springs Elementary School) that spoke to what they would like to see changed if their dad was selected to serve on the board. One asked for more advanced curriculum and, “to fix the leaky roof at the school” which, Taylor read, his child found troubling, if not a bit silly that she would be learning in a facility plagued by a chronically leaking roof.

Taylor’s other child asked for, “harder spelling words,” but also for better air circulation in the building which, as Taylor read, the child found “suffocating,” especially during the warmer months.

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