School District considers bonds for Web access, new software

Selling bonds to finance brick-and-mortar classrooms is old school.

The next bonds sought by the Clark County School District might go toward creating access to cyberspace.

New school construction in the nation's fifth-largest public school district has ended for the foreseeable future because of declining enrollment and the end of its 1998 bond program, which generated $4.9 billion for capital needs.

District officials are now considering a new bond program to keep pace with ever-changing technology and to replace antiquated information systems.

Sheila Moulton, a board member, is also interested in providing wireless Internet access on school buses so students can study during their commutes.

A bond amount has not been finalized, but on Wednesday, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Weiler said the district is in need of "multimillion dollar investments."

The cost estimate for new software for the district's student information system is between $6 million and $15 million, not including the hardware or staff training.

"We are looking at a big dinner check," said School Board member Chris Garvey.

In the past, the district used bond funds for school computers, but not for technology for more operational or business-like purposes.

SASI, the district's student information system, reached the end of its "product life" two years ago, meaning the manufacturer no longer makes replacement parts. It's the central database for student records such as attendance and addresses. Ideally, Jhone Ebert, the district's chief technology officer, would like to see it replaced within two years.

"It's like an old refrigerator," added School Board member Linda Young Wednesday. "You can longer do anything with it. You just have to replace it."

Some information systems are so outdated that the only employees who know how to keep them functioning may soon be retiring, Weiler said.

Since 2004, the district has invested more than $50 million in Enterprise Resource Planning software to run the district's business operations. ERP is currently used for budgeting and purchasing, but the functions for payroll and human resources were shut down about two years ago because of the cost involved.

The district must now decide whether to revive the human resources functions or start over with a new program, said Ebert.

The need for vocational technology was highlighted at a Wednesday board meeting during a presentation by representatives from the Ford Motor Company's 21st Century Education Programs.

Cheryl Carrier, the program director, and Richard DeLano, president of Social Marking Services, advocated "career pathways" to align the district's vocational programs with the employment needs of the area.

Matthew Crosson, president of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, said he is depending on the district's vocational programs to help diversify the local economy.

District officials said the Ford presentation validated the system's investment in opening five new career and technical academies in recent years.

Officials also are looking for ways to expand vocational programs into traditional comprehensive high schools.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@reviewjournal .com or 702-374-7917.