The Whitley County School District is looking to utilize cellphone networks for data streaming in order to provide Internet access for the more than 550 students, who are currently learning from home with no Internet access.
During its monthly meeting Sept. 10, the Whitley County Board of Education approved a Verizon Wireless limited distance learning authorized customer agreement.
Deputy Superintendent Paula Rickett told the board that school principals have worked to gather information about the areas with students who don’t have Internet access.
Chief Information Officer Kevin Anderson said that there are 559 students, some of whom are siblings, in 307 households across the district, who are doing some kind of package scenario for school work because they don’t have Internet access in their homes.
Rickett said the district is looking to work with Verizon and other providers to help solve this need.
“We are calling it Internet to the Student, not necessarily Internet to the Home,” Anderson said. “Looking at the different vendors, it is all going to be based on cellular networks at this point. As you all know, sometimes if you have a Verizon phone, you have great service in this area, but AT&T may pick up a little better in another area in the district.”
“All of that information has been compiled and put into a database that we are looking at to sort out where the need is and what is the best service that can cover them in the area.”
Superintendent John Siler noted that in-person instruction is slated to start again on Sept. 28, but experts are warning that districts should expect some shutdowns for in-person learning throughout this school year as there are spikes in sickness.
“Hopefully we can equip several of our students homes with these hot spot jet packs so they will have Internet access. We have done the first part with the commitment of the board to purchase Chromebooks and be a one-to-one school district. When I say one-to-one, I mean one Chromebook per student, not one Chromebook per household. Each of our kids get a Chromebook. This is something that throughout the school year our kids will benefit from,” Siler noted.
Anderson said that the contract will allow the district to take advantage of some special rates that Verizon is offering through the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes unlimited data streaming.
Rickett noted that the district can seek grant money from Berea College to help reimburse the cost of the data plan.
“I feel like it is important that we provide Internet access to our families, who are struggling at home with virtual learning. This is a way we can help them,” noted Board Chair Brenda Hill.
Also, during Thursday’s meeting, the board approved the working budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021, which every school district is required to approve during the month of September.
Districts are required to maintain at least a 2 percent contingency fund, this budget has nearly a 3.5 percent contingency fund, Siler noted.
The budget also includes the purchase of multiple new buses, sets aside matching money for state technology funding, and funding for a 1 percent across the board raise for all employees.
“It’s a solid, working budget for our school district,” Siler added.
In addition, the board set the 2021 tax rates at 44.3 cents per $100 of assessed value for real estate, and 45.03 cents per $100 of assessed value for personal property, which is the same rate as last year.
“I don’t see any kind of need for a tax raise on our community. We are operating well fiscally,” Siler said adding that last year Whitley County had the 11th lowest school tax rate in the state out of 173 school districts.
In other business, the board approved the fresh fruit and vegetable grant totaling $137,875.62, which will be divided up among the elementary schools. “It gives each one of our students a healthy snack after lunch and before the buses on the evening run. A lot of times kids get things from carrot sticks to grapes and apple slices,” Siler said.