Updated August 14, 2020 - 7:11 am
The Clark County School Board met on Thursday for the last time before schools virtually welcome students back on Aug. 24 to approve a series of initiatives meant to improve students’ access to the internet and technology needed for distance learning.
Superintendent Jesus Jara also briefed the board that after state budget cuts were taken into account, the district is looking at a $40 million cut to school budgets, or about $125 per pupil.
Trustees granted approval for a plan to use $37 million in block grant funds to purchase Chromebooks, iPads and internet hotspots, as well as an additional $4.8 million in federal emergency relief funds to provide 20,000 Cox internet connections for qualifying students.
Another $1.8 million in grant or general funds was approved for the district to purchase Kajeet internet hotspots to provide Wi-Fi services to students who move frequently, or who live in areas without reliable internet service providers.
An emergency agenda addendum also sought the trustees’ approval for a new initiative announced this week that establishes a call center for families to contact if they need help accessing a Chromebook or internet service. The call center is meant to provide end-to-end service in getting families connected to the internet, said district Chief Operating Officer Mike Casey, as it had been previously reported that families dropped off before completing the process.
A district technology survey has reached approximately 217,000 of Clark County’s 320,000 students, he added. Approximately 84,000 students have reported a need for devices, according to Jara, while just over 19,000 reported needing internet access.
“If we don’t know the needs, we can’t address them,” Casey said.
The new agreement requires the district to put in place data-sharing agreements with the community partners who will operate the center, allowing limited access to student information available in the Infinite Campus student portal.
Trustee Chris Garvey expressed concern that the board has been asked to sign off on initiatives after they’ve effectively gone into place. The practice puts the board in “a continual box of ‘you have to approve it or you hurt kids,’” she said.
Trustee Linda Cavazos also emphasized the importance of keeping student information private.
The agenda did not include further updates on the preparations for resuming school via distance learning, but the topic was raised by parents and teachers in submitted public comment.
Board members also heard an update on the district’s Human Capital Management System, the new payroll software that left employees short on pay during the last school year.
An outside consultant hired to manage the fallout of the project, Mike Del Prado, reiterated that the system went live with functionality gaps that should have been reported, but that the situation was neither an indictment of the school district nor of its implementing partner.
Approximately 95 percent of the HCMS items that needed remediation have been addressed, Del Prado said.
The board also approved as part of the consent agenda $344,000 more to the construction of a new elementary school, after Clark County reported that it had mistakenly turned over a 15-foot parcel of land to the Bureau of Land Management. Trustee Danielle Ford asked if the district should have gotten a legal opinion before agreeing to foot such a bill.