In an attempt to get more input Riverside Elementary School District 96 will hold a technology forum on Feb. 4 to solicit ideas from the community about how to address technology infrastructure problems at the district.

The forum is the brainchild of school board member Michael O’Brien who, at the Dec. 17 school board meeting, proposed it.

“Administrators, teachers, students, taxpayers and board members all seem to want to have a say in this matter about the direction we are headed,” O’Brien said. “I think we should give a chance for all stakeholders to give input. 

“There’s a lot at stake here.”

In the fall a consulting firm, Client First, examined the district’s technology infrastructure and found a number of problems. In November, District 96 Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis presented a recommendation to the school board based on Client First’s recommendations to spend approximately $275,000 over a six-month period to upgrade the district’s technology infrastructure. 

The proposal included purchasing new servers and hiring an interim technology manager as a prelude to hiring a full-time, hands-on technology manager. 

But O’Brien and some other school board members balked at the cost and wanted more time to explore other options.

Acquiescing to such concerns, Sharma-Lewis came up with an alternative approach for the board to consider. At the Dec. 17 meeting she told the board that the district had been approached by a vendor who could handle the district’s technology infrastructure offsite in an outsourcing arrangement. At the Jan. 7 finance committee meeting, the board will hear a presentation from that firm.

With this approach, the outside firm would use its servers to manage the district’s technology infrastructure and the district would pay a fee for the service.

“This board needs to decide, before we have the forum, do we want to continue to host our technology onsite and invest money in our infrastructure and hire people to support that, or do we want to invest money in our instruction and put our infrastructure offsite and have other people manage that?” Sharma-Lewis told the school board at the Dec. 17 meeting. 

In response, O’Brien said that he does not know if he and the board will be ready to make that decision before the community forum. 

“I don’t want to insult my intelligence, but I don’t know if I’m smart enough to make that decision,” O’Brien said. 

O’Brien said that he wanted to hear the opinions of those in the community with expertise on technology matters.

Board member Randy Brockway agreed with O’Brien.

“I think it’s important to get the community involved,” Brockway said.

But board member David Kodama said that he wanted to get recommendations from district staff.

“We need to hear from our staff,” Kodama said. “I think there needs to be some outline of what we’re going to talk about.”

O’Brien said that he wanted to get input from Director of Technology Vern Bettis, who has not appeared before the school board since Sharma-Lewis took over on July 1.

“I specifically request the attendance of Vern Bettis and [Technology Systems Specialist] Matt Ahlenius,” O’Brien said. “We all have opinions about technology and what we need to do or not to do, but I would hope that we would have a wide-ranging discussion for input.”

Brockway also agreed with that O’Brien suggestion. 

“I second Mike’s suggestion that we have Vern and Matt there,” Brockway said.