School board discusses IT strategic plan, funding inequities
April 22, 2021
By Rick Nelson
The Wahkiakum School District board of directors discussed the need for an information technology (IT) strategy plan and what Superintendent Brent Freeman called funding inequities when they met Tuesday evening.
The district needs to plan how it will develop and maintain its IT program which could be valued roughly at $750,000 and has equipment that needs to be replaced roughly every five years, Freeman said.
"That scares me; that's a lot of money," Freeman said. "It concerns me that we have such a big requirement on a small budget."
Classroom equipment is a large part of IT spending, with $355,000 going to things like computers for students and another $130,000 going for auxiliary equipment such as audio equipment and projectors.
Another $150,000 goes for basic equipment, security and support, and around $110,000 goes for licensing, cameras and supporting equipment.
The district has a staff member in charge with maintenance and support, but the position is only .29 of a full-time position, Freeman said, and that position needs to be expanded.
"We have to focus on support--it has the biggest impact on the system," Freeman said. "We don't have a stable system, and that frustrates all of us.
"The final takeaway is that we'd like to develop a documented strategy," Freeman said, adding he wanted to have it ready for board study in July.
Director Paula Culbertson further recommended the district develop a policy based on the strategic plan.
"I agree," Freeman said.
The IT funding needs combine with the district's building needs to create a frustrating concern for Freeman and other district officials.
Voters last year rejected a building bond proposal, leaving the district to deal with leaky roofs, overloaded electric wiring and what Freeman calls "third world education."
Freeman said he had worked with District 19 state legislators to get funding for the district in the state budget, but the appropriation didn't make it into the budget.
Freeman sees it as an equity issue: Besides dealing with the aging facilities, students suffer from lack of facilities such as chemistry and physics labs.
Further, districts with valuable industrial property can raise funds through property taxes at much lower rates than districts such as Wahkiakum which don't have the valuable tax base. The median income in Wahkiakum is $37,000; state wide it is $67,000.
"You're forcing poor people to fund education," he said.
Freeman said he continues to work with state legislators, and he has also contacted federal lawmakers to emphasize that school facilities are infrastructure that should be included in proposed federal infrastructure legislation.
Freeman said he would continue to lobby for school funding, and he would consider other options, even a lawsuit seeking funding equity.
"I'm not going to stand back," he said. "We're going to be the mouse that roared."
In other business, Freeman and directors discussed what parameters they should establish for selling advertising on the district's new scoreboards. Freeman said he would continue evaluating a pricing structure.
Freeman also said that with just eight weeks left in the school year, the district wouldn't make changes in its class schedule, which has functioned this school year without significant impact from the covid-19 pandemic.
In response to a comment in The Eagle's letters to the editor last week, Freeman said no district money would be used when Washington State Department of Transportation installs a lighted crosswalk across SR 4. The crosswalk with improve safety for students heading to the district's Farm Forest. Freeman said that in warm weather, students may make 1,000 crossing a week for outdoor education.