D-156 to seek technology bids

McHENRY – District 156 will seek bids next month for school telecommunications and Internet technology services.

Administrators and school board members reviewed the annual application process for federal e-rate reimbursement, under the Federal Communications Commission, during Tuesday’s board meeting.

The e-rate program provides schools reimbursement, depending on a school’s percentage of low-income students, for telecommunications services and Internet access.

District 156 is eligible for reimbursement rate of 50 percent this year, said Joe Zelek, director of network technology services.

If contracts for district telecommunications services are not signed in time, “then we’re not eligible for the 50 percent reimbursement,” he told the board. The district must have a request for proposals filed and posted by Feb. 14, he said.

Superintendent Gina Swinney said the administration needs answers from the board “fairly soon” and “make decisions in February about what we hope things are going to look like in the fall in order for it to work.”

The discussion ties into the ongoing goals under the district’s technology plan.

For more than a year, school administrators and staff have worked to develop a plan to boost technology for classroom learning and teaching, and expand Internet access for both high school campuses.

A solid, wireless infrastructure is the leading solution to current technological shortcomings, Zelek said.

Come spring, the district has a chance to secure $2.2 million in interest rate savings to go toward those needs when voters go to the polls. The anticipated savings comes from refinancing district bonds totaling $29 million.

The April 9 ballot question will ask voters whether the district can use the money for technology and infrastructure improvements for both campuses or whether it should go back to taxpayers at a slight reduction in their tax bills.

For the owner of a $200,000 house, the reduction would amount to $14 a year. Administrators and school board officials said persuading property owners to let the district keep the $2.2 million won’t be an easy sell, especially since the school board last week approved an 8 percent tax levy increase.

On average, computers at both campuses are 10 years old, and classrooms lack projectors, meaning that teachers have to share mobile projectors. The district buildings run on 41 megabytes, a small Internet band-width network, Zelek said.

“Either way, whether the referendum goes through or the referendum doesn’t go through, the plan is to open up our network as much as possible to staff and hopefully to students and do the best we can with what we can afford,” he said.

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