The Prior Lake-Savage Area School Board decided to not move forward with a proposed technology levy at its Monday evening study session.
During the meeting, the board reviewed possible levy options and quotes on new technology. The annual revenue from the proposed levy ranged from $2.5 to $4.5 million.
Marcus Milazzo, Director of Technology for PLSAS led a presentation on the proposal with board members by stating that the tech department had not been through a restructure in about 11 years and gave an overview of the department currently.
The annual subtotal of the technology budget for the 2019-2020 school year was $2.66 million with the projected subtotal for the coming school year at $2.68 million.
Milazzo also pointed out that PLSAS has the highest tech staff to student ratio at 1 staff per 599 students in comparison to five surrounding school districts. There are currently 12,591 mobile devices throughout the PLSAS district.
He identified three areas of focus for the potential levy; student and staff devices, instructional software and network infrastructure; and additional technology staffing.
“If we are going to add more devices and put the devices in the hands of students we’ll need more team members in order to help me and the district support all these devices,” Milazzo said. “It’s very different deployment from a cart model where the device sits and waits for a student to use it versus a device that goes home with a student hopefully in a protected backpack or case and goes home and is used at home and in the car and at school or wherever, which is great — anytime learning that’s what we want. We’re bringing the technology to kids instead of the kids to technology but that has an impact on our total cost of ownership. Labor costs go up, repair costs go up, we need to factor that in. We need to be thinking about that as we have this conversation.”
For the levy to reach the Nov. 3 general election ballot the board would have had to bring the proposal forward for a formal vote at its Monday, Aug. 10 meeting. If the board voted in favor, the district would have to file the levy with Scott County by Aug. 21 for it to reach the ballot.
Board members discussed the feasibility of the community voting in favor of the levy at the polls before reaching their decision.
“Just this quarter the district downsized key frontline teaching staff by 10.5 employees and suggested tonight to boost tech staff and to buy more tech equipment,” said Melissa Enger, a director on the PLSAS board. “I think our community, from what I’m hearing, when they knew that we were going to have this study session our community would not support this suggestion for a tech levy at this time.”
She said the board needs to live within its means more than ever right now.
“We were able to get through these last five months and I’ve already had feedback come into me and I’ve been told very bluntly that this is not the right time at all that we’ve had difficulties managing our money over the last year and there is no way to expect a tax levy to be on the ballot to fly,” Enger added.
PLSAS Board Director Mary Frantz thought switching from the general fund to a tech levy would allow for better technology to prepare students and support staff in handling different learning environments and help the district’s overall budget.
“We can’t promise we’ll stave off additional cuts to staff but it certainly would help. So maybe it doesn’t sound like we’re helping the 10.5 staff that left but you would think by saving that money out of the general fund we’d at least be giving us a buffer for future cuts,” Frantz said. “That’s the way I look at it. I don’t look at it as it’s just technology and the community won’t support it. It’s the part we can carve out so that we do save more of the general fund, so essentially it helps everybody.”
The general consensus of the board was that more time was needed to gather stakeholder input on the topic before it could be voted on.
“One of the reasons they’re holding off on having that is stakeholder engagement and input,” PLSAS Assistant Superintendent Jeff Holmberg said. “Then also awareness and really kind of informing and educating the voter about the need and the necessity. Then ultimately, what is the plan moving forward for the technology and what the money, pending successful passing, would be used for. Without that information it was just too wrapped, too quickly to be able to get that stakeholder input in such a short time frame.”
Though the board won’t currently be moving forward with the levy, it will be a future focus after feedback and input is gathered via surveys, student/teacher focus groups or curriculum planning teams, he added.