School board looks at tech upgrades, improving security
It is undisputable – technology plays a vital and ever-changing role in education.
But the Upper Perkiomen School Board disagreed Thursday on whether or not to move forward with technology improvements to district schools, with some officials saying, in part, that they want to hold off on upgrades pending further planning.
The district is reportedly suffering from an aging wireless network that doesn’t always allow staff to access the Internet and is overloaded with guest traffic, among other problems.
“This district is so far behind with technology,” said Board President Bill Scott. “It’s like we’re behind in a row boat trying to catch the big boat. We as a school district have to decide if we’re going to move forward with technology. Teachers need to be able to access information and use it more efficiently in the classroom. Technology is expensive…Otherwise we might as well go back to pencil and paper.”
Scott, citing his three sons who attended Upper Perk schools, said his youngest, now in college, was largely unprepared to use technology in the undergraduate arena. He also said he spoke with teachers and parents in the district who believe the expense is a necessary one.
The board was faced with spending $280,000, with $230,000 from capital funds and $50,000 budgeted, on updating all the district’s buildings with a state-of-the-art wireless network. The $50,000 budgeted is only to update the high school’s network.
Director Rob Pepe said he was concerned with spending the $280,000, noting upcoming expenses for tennis court improvements and security upgrades.
“The initial proposal was just for the high school and I’m not sure if the advantages immediately outweigh the costs,” he said of upgrading all buildings. Pepe noted he would rather take one step at a time with improvements and get more information on replacing the technology once it is outdated.
Dr. Beth Yonson, superintendent, said administrators didn’t feel the initial proposal was “adequate,” but felt it was all the board was willing to do.
“We are very, very behind with technology, not only with the kids but with the teachers,” said Dr. Sue King, the district’s director of teaching and learning. “To limit this technology to the high school is doing them a disservice. It has to be part of the education from kindergarten on up.”
Board Director Margie Gehlhaus agreed.
“If we don’t keep our technology up-to-date then we are failing,” Gehlhaus said. “This involves each and every student from elementary through high school.”
A vote to upgrade wireless services district-wide failed 4-5, with directors Jeff Feirick, Gehlhaus, John Gehman and Scott providing the only votes in favor. A subsequent vote to upgrade only the high school passed 8-1, with Scott voting against it.
“I think we’ve made a mistake. That is why we spend money, to help educate kids,” Feirick said after the vote, saying he believed if the district made the upgrades, planning for future equipment replacement would be forthcoming.
In other news, the board voted 8-1 to move forward with the first phase of security upgrades to district buildings, in the amount of $133,250. The increased security measures will include installing four wireless cameras at Hereford Elementary, Upper Perk Middle School, the Education Center and Upper Perk High School to improve visitor visibility.
Cameras are in the process of being installed at Marlborough Elementary as some funds were already budgeted. The remainder of the improvements will be funded through capital reserves.
Swipe card entry systems will also be installed at all five buildings in the current phase, as will a buzzer entry system, the installation of security doors, new traffic signage to change traffic flow and the installation of four bollards, all at the Education Center.
All exterior doors will be replaced districtwide, rendering existing keys useless. Swipe cards will replace the use of keys.
Future improvements, totaling approximately $100,000, are slated to include the installation of transaction windows with bullet-resistant features and additional buzzer systems, at alternate entry points, at several buildings, “man-trap” entrances at the middle and high schools, and the installation of metal grills/frames over glass panels at the entrances of the elementary schools.
“I think we all agreed we had to really do some work on security,” Scott said. “We are working really hard to get these buildings secure. Unfortunately, six months ago this wouldn’t have been a topic. Now it’s the number one topic. It’s the times.”
More discussion on the improvements will take place as part of the new all-hazards committee meeting Feb. 27 at 3:45 p.m. at the Education Center.