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By LINDSAY OLIVIER
NORTH KINGSTOWN â€“ Monday night members from both the North Kingstown school committee and town council met to discuss the findings of the Elert & Associates IT Assessment Report discussing the possibility of consolidating the school department and towns IT departments.
The study began last April and concluded in September. Elert had recommended the town take over the school departmentâ€™s technology department, a move that the consolidation committee â€śstrongly endorsesâ€ť.
Among the key findings in the report is that many of the schoolâ€™s infrastructures, which include data switches, security, air conditioning, location of the computer rooms and more are in need of improvement. It was also noted that none of the school buildings have wireless internet, something that the study found was a big desire among employees. Additionally, the school department is currently using an older voice system that the committee says needs to be upgraded.
Elert also stated that, unlike an increasing number of school districts, none of the classrooms in the NK school system have individual phones.
â€śWhat we found doing this study is that both the town and school department have exceptional IT support in place and the employees seem to be very happy with how things are running,â€ť Elert representative Peter Gray said.
The recommendations include focusing on improving the infrastructure, more specifically, finding a better location for one of the IT closets that is located in a bathroom at Wickford Middle School. Establishing wireless in the buildings and developing a new voice over system are two additional recommendations.
The study also recommends having the town IT department take over managing the schoolâ€™s department with a staffing reorganization, making way for the elimination of one position.
â€śAll current employees would have a clean slate and youâ€™d be able to assess them and put them in the right spots,â€ť added Elertâ€™s Marcia Kaplan. â€śIt would also be a good opportunity to revise job descriptions.â€ť
The consolidation committee has voiced its support with Elertâ€™s recommendations and feels it would be an â€śinitial step toward a single, integrated IT department serving the town and school departmentâ€ť.
In a letter to the town council and school committee, the consolidation committee urges both organizations to approve the plan and set July 1, 2012 as the target date for implementation.
However, school Superintendent Dr. Philip Auger has numerous significant areas of concern and says that the consolidation of IT departments is not in the best interest of the school department.
Augerâ€™s main concerns begin with the recommendation of over $1.4 million in phone service expenses and infrastructure upgrades, a move that both Auger and District Network Manager Richard Booth have stated in the past are not needed.
â€śI like the idea of consolidation. But, I donâ€™t see a concise plan before us,â€ť Auger said. â€śI understand the school district has infrastructure needs, but not to the tune of $1.4 million. Right now to spend money on those items doesnâ€™t make it to the top of the list.â€ť
â€śYouâ€™re right Dr. Auger, we donâ€™t have a plan,â€ť answered Town Manager Michael Embury. â€śThat would be premature. We need to sit down and begin working on issues. But, first, we need to see if this is something we both want.â€ť
Auger explained the district isnâ€™t interested in phones in classrooms and argued that the intercom system thatâ€™s in place now is working just fine. Auger said he doesnâ€™t believe itâ€™s going to save money in the long run and wonders why the school district would want to change a system thatâ€™s working and serving the district well.
In the past five years, the school department has cut 4.5 full-time IT staff positions despite increased demands for technology.
â€śWe rely heavily on IT while educating. Itâ€™s as integral as pens and paper,â€ť Auger said, nothing that there are already a variety of IT related communication mandates from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) and those mandates appear to be growing, due in part to Race to the Top funds.
â€śI remain open to discussing cost saving options with this group on a quarterly basis to review upcoming plans and seek cost saving advice from one another,â€ť added Auger. â€śHowever, I believe that Elert falls short of grounding its recommendation with adequate evidence or a real understanding of the North Kingstown local context.â€ť
School committee member William Mudge said Monday he doesnâ€™t see the need for two people to be doing the same job. Committee chairperson Kimberly Page felt the $1.4 million in upgrades was challenging but asked if a few projects could be done rather than the whole list.
Gray answered that some of the upgrades could be scaled back. Auger also pointed out that a grant is available to help bring wireless into some of the buildings.
Embury stated that the townâ€™s IT department operates 24/7, oversees the IT functions of three other communities and, at one time, two town employees had to go into a few schools and fix things.
â€śThe main objective here is that there needs to be an agreement on both sides to move forward,â€ť said Gray. â€śWithout that thereâ€™ll be no success.â€ť
The town council was all in agreement with Elertâ€™s study and recommendation and urged the committee to take the recommendations and discuss it further.