With a 2-2 vote, the Jeffco School Board failed to approve a contract for a district-wide storage infrastructure upgrade at its Thursday meeting.
The storage upgrade contract was to upgrade the current data storage infrastructure that includes the student information system, financial and HR data, transportation and food service data, safety and security data like card access and cameras, explained Brett Miller, Jeffco Schools Chief Technology Officer. It is not connected to the proposed classroom dashboard or inBloom pilot.
The systems are accessed by more than 200,000 accounts by staff, students and parents, and include the district’s web presence for the larger community as well, Miller said.
The current data storage system is at the end of its life cycle and is running at 80 to 90 percent capacity, Miller told the board. This increases the probability of errors and other issues, he said.
The system has been partly impacted by the mobile device initiatives, such as neighborhood and charter schools with iPad initiatives and similar programs.
The situation is somewhat similar to what happens when the hard drive of a personal computer is nearly full: the system is sluggish, occasionally freezes for no good reason, and generally does not work like it once did, except that in Jeffco’s case, the system is much larger and has thousands more users.
“Our storage environment relies on storage space to process information for the above-mentioned services and when it reaches capacity has similar results but on a much larger scale and to a larger user base,” Miller said.
Miller told the board the $1.1 million expense had been planned for and budgeted. He said they had negotiated the price and the contract was for a 68 percent discount. Douglas County recently upgraded their storage and only received a 65 percent discount, he said.
Miller said his team has been monitoring usage and technology trends in the industry and has explored technologies and worked with external storage specialists to determine the best solution for Jeffco. They had intended to award a contract this year and have the new system installed before the first semester ended.
Board members Paula Noonan and Laura Boggs questioned the technology expense and voted against the contract. After asking several questions, Noonan said she would be willing to vote for contract approval if the other board members agreed to set up a technology oversight committee to advise the board much in the way that the district’s Financial Oversight Committee currently does.
Board members Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper said they would be willing to have a discussion about such a committee, but said they could not approve a committee without first knowing what its responsibilities would be. Both voted in favor of the contract.
The teams that worked with the IT department to make the contract recommendation are also “members of the Jeffco community so the decisions they make are both from a business standpoint as well as a contributing member of the community,” Miller said. “The decision was both fiscally responsible and strategically sound.”
Miller said if the storage is not upgraded by the end of the current semester, his department would need to freeze the current environment and use workarounds to avoid performance issues, like scheduling transcripts nightly and centrally rather than having schools run their own.
Maintenance outages are also expected, and future iPad or similar initiatives would be frozen until the district knows the exact impact the mobile devices would have on the system.
Only four votes were cast on the contract because the board has not appointed an applicant to fill the District 1 vacancy yet.
The board also heard an application from Cornerstone Academy of Colorado, a charter school hoping to be located near Wadsworth and Hampden.
Tracie Sudermann, Cornerstone’s founding board president, said the school would be a Core Knowledge School and would be structured with nine-week terms followed by a break. The school would also offer intervention and enrichment periods four days per week.
The board will vote on whether to approve Cornerstone Academy’s application at its Nov. 7 meeting.
In other business, the district’s fourth-quarter financial report was presented and the board heard recommendations from the Financial Oversight Committee, which meets monthly to review all financial statements and make recommendations to the staff at the school board.
Committee member Gordon Calahan told the board that building maintenance was going to continue to be an issue. The district has only had $20 million to budget for capital expenses due to funding cuts, but Calahan said that realistically, $50 million is needed to adequately maintain Jeffco Schools buildings.
“We have to keep a real perspective on maintaining these schools,” Calahan said, pointing out that Jeffco Schools has more buildings than the Denver Tech Center. “Bond issues are still going to be an important part of this program.”
Jeffco Chief Financial Officer Lorie Gillis said that other items on the radar included expenses from special education students placed out of district, which have increased significantly and continue to increase. These expenses are currently projected to exceed the 2013/14 budget amounts, she said.
Other items include facilities planning, technology, the online fee system and the impact of the state school finance act.
The Jeffco School Board also heard a presentation about student achievement and the district's 2013 TCAP (Transitional Colorado Assessment Program) results.
As in previous years, Jeffco students have outperformed the state average in every grade and in every content area. Jeffco students have done this despite a 10 percent increase in the district’s poverty rate in the last five years, said Heather Beck, Chief Academic Officer.
“We have a great deal to celebrate and we have a great deal of work to do,” said Superintendent Cindy Stevenson.