D-156 looks at wireless upgrade

McHENRY – Despite a failed referendum in April, McHenry High School District 156 is still trying to implement proposed technology and security improvements.

It’s just going to take longer, said Joe Zelek, the district’s technology director.

The first priority, technology-wise, is making the district wireless, installing access points and other infrastructure to handle mobile devices – including tablets and laptops, either district-owned or brought in by students – depending on how the school board changes its technology policy.

The initial cost is estimated at $190,000 with recurring annual costs of about $10,000, according to school board documents.

The upgrade wouldn’t address the other technology concerns laid out ahead of the referendum, including outdated equipment. About 70 percent of the district’s computers run Windows XP, an operating system that Microsoft has said it will no longer support after April 2014, Curriculum Director Brent Raby said.

The total improvements laid out as part of the referendum proposal would have totaled $1.9 million with the rest of the $2.2 million saved through refinancing bonds going toward security and other improvements.

The school board hasn’t decided whether it’s going ahead with the wireless upgrade yet, but at a Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday evening, the board gave informal approval for staff to request proposals and cost estimates from businesses.

“If you don’t know the number, you can’t make a decision,” said Gary Kinshofer, one of four new board members.

If the request for proposals goes out Monday, the proposals will presented to the board at its June 17 meeting, at which time the board will have to decide if there’s money for the project.

The district may have additional money coming from the state that it wasn’t expecting, which was why Zelek was asked to prepare a plan, he said.

If the board goes ahead with the improvements, Zelek estimated that implementation would be completed in late October.

“We haven’t deviated from our master plan,” Zelek said. “Plan A is there. It’s a prioritization of all of our systems and how to replace them, and as funding becomes available, we address what is the most critical at that point.”

The district is also applying for grants in hopes of getting 50 percent of the cost for security improvements covered.

The installation of cameras and buzzers at the main entrances to both high schools – as well as the mobile classrooms – is wrapping up, Zelek said.

Grant money would go toward additional cameras, upgraded security software and an upgraded intercom and alert system.

The alert system prevented West Campus’ last tornado drill from running effectively, said the school’s principal, Mike Roberts. Roberts is set to take over as superintendent next school year.

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