By CHERIL VERNON
The Palestine Independent School District Board of Trustees approved an $825,000 budget amendment to the 2012-13 PISD budget Monday that will allow the district to appropriate funds to be utilized for various projects this summer — including technology and security upgrades.
PISD Chief Financial Officer David Atkeisson recommended the amendment to the General Fund due to the increase in enrollment in total and in the district’s Career and Technology Education program, which exceeded the enrollment figures used to build the 2012-13 budget.
The $825,000 budget amendment includes $350,000 for the purpose of technology infrastructure and equipment upgrades that will help prepare the school district for its 1:1 computer program at the high school and junior high campuses, utilizing Apple iPad minis purchased primarily with grant money.
The board also approved a Wifi infrastructure upgrade project that goes hand-in-hand with these improvements. The Wifi network currently in place was designed for laptop computers used at the schools a little more than three years ago.
With the Apple iPad minis proposed, a much stronger Wifi signal is needed, according to PISD Director of Technology David G. Long. The upgrade project includes Wifi arrays, Wifi network switching and cabling costs.
“With the budget approval, by Aug. 1, we will have fully functional Wifi at the high school. With the additional TT1PS (Texas Title 1 Priority Schools) grant, 850 kids will have handheld devices,” PISD Superintendent Jason Marshall said during the meeting. “If we secure the funding for the junior high as we hope with additional TT1PS funding, the junior high will have handheld devices by Christmas. That’s 1,300 handheld devices on two campuses with fully functional Wifi.
“That’s a significant investment in technology,” he said. “We’re also tapping three outside funding sources to make this happen for our kids. We really do appreciate our board’s investment in our kids.”
In addition, the school district is working on grants to expand its 1:1 computer program to the other four school districts in the spring.
The $825,000 budget amendment also includes $250,000 for security upgrades and various summer maintenance projects, $155,000 for vehicle purchases previously approved and $70,000 to accommodate any unforeseen instructional needs.
Atkeisson explained how PISD completed a safety audit a few months back and had made several safety enhancements prior to that visit due to construction projects that were already in process.
Currently, the school district has not received the official safety audit report, but does have the preliminary report which does make a few suggestions for the district.
Because Story Intermediate, Washington Early Childhood Center and Palestine Junior High School did not have any extensive or comprehensive safety upgrades made earlier in the 2012-13 year, the budget amendment for security upgrades will go toward these campuses.
“We want to create a more secure vestibule (entry point), a security check-in point. That should begin very shortly,” Atkeisson said.
Also during Monday’s school board meeting, the PISD board of trustees approved an interlocal soccer complex agreement between PISD and the Palestine YMCA — with suggested changes — for the use of property at A.M. Story Intermediate.
Board president Wade Hobbs abstained from the discussion and vote due to his relationship with the school district and YMCA.
The land — about eight acres currently developed and close to eight undeveloped — is located in a long strip in front of Story Elementary School on North Loop 256, going almost to the intersection of the Loop and U.S. 79.
The school district’s part in the agreement would be allowing the use of the land, with the YMCA spearheading the fund-raising process for building a soccer complex.
The agreement will allow the YMCA to construct athletic fields and any related structures such as lights, fences, restrooms, bleachers and concession stands, and will allow the YMCA to use the premises and existing fields for its soccer and other athletic programs. Palestine ISD will also have use of the complex for its own soccer and athletic programs.
For three years after the agreement is signed, the Palestine YMCA will have sole responsibility for the costs of maintaining the property and its construction, as the district has no financial commitment in the project, though the district can choose to spend money for constructional purposes at that point. The utility and maintenance schedule also will be revisited at that time.
During the initial planning phase, PISD will have input into the design and construction of a cross-country course constructed on site. The cross country course will be installed at the discretion of the district.
PISD board trustee Stan Sokolowski suggested a handful of changes that needed to be made to the agreement regarding: adding a time table on building a six-foot perimeter fence around the complex to protect the children, particularly along the highway side; having separate water and electric meters (already in place) for the complex; and making sure any restroom facilities are properly maintained, etc.
The board’s approval of the agreement stipulates that Marshall will strengthen the language in certain areas of the agreement before both entities approve it.
PISD does have a one-year opt-out clause that will allow the district to terminate the agreement upon 12 months prior written notice to the YMCA without penalty, if the premises is needed for educational purposes.
“At one time we had 1,100 students housed at Story and have less than 800 now,” Marshall reiterated. “I don’t see a need for more facilities in the short term.”
In other action, the school board:
• HEARD the financial update.
• APPROVED the consent agenda.
• HEARD report on current STAAR Scores and Accountability System Indexes.
• APPROVED 2013-2014 District Goals.
• APPROVED hiring professional personnel.
• HEARD Superintendent’s Report on Texas 83rd Legislative Session, Texas Association of School Boards - Summer Leadership Institute and the summer calendar.
• RECOGNIZED KYYK 98.3 and the Palestine Herald-Press through the 2013 Media Honor Roll.