De Pere board talks technology, future budget forecasts
By Ben Rodgers
DE PERE – The De Pere school board learned about the use of technology in schools prior to the pandemic at its Monday, May 18, meeting.
Let’s Get Our Staff Certified was an initiative to train 20 staff members in Google Suite.
The program was awarded grant funds from the district last year to reimburse teachers for participation.
“We’re a G Suite for Education or Google Apps for Education school,” said Josh Gauthier, technology integration coach for Foxview Intermediate School and De Pere Middle School. “We have those tools we use. We feel as a district we could be doing more with that. We felt there was an opportunity to provide a more intensive cohort in learning with this process.”
The 20 teachers who signed up each received $150 for completing eight of 10 possible hours of training and attempting a test at the end.
Gauthier said about 15 additional teachers were not able to participate, due to limited grant funds.
He said teachers completed level-one training and 90 percent passed the exam to obtain level-one certification.
Programs they learned include Google Classroom, Google Hangouts, Google Sites and Google Sheets.
Gauthier said there was interest from some teachers to obtain level-two certification and learn more Google programs.
“I think it’s important we have teachers that are equipped to use the tools that we expect students to be using,” said Cara Krebsbach, technology integration coach for De Pere elementary schools.
Because training was completed before the district switched to online learning, results relating to online instruction were not available, Krebsbach said.
Krebsbach also reported about Connecting Curriculum to Coding with the Use of Blue-Bots and Card Mats, another grant recipient.
A Blue-Bot is a programmable floor robot that students program to avoid obstacles on a large card mat.
Krebsbach worked with 85 percent of all K-1 students with the technology, before the pandemic forced schools closed.
“One thing about kindergartners and first-graders, their enthusiasm just bubbles out of their bodies,” she said. “The enthusiasm these kids have is pretty remarkable to be able to do something like this.”
For example, kindergarten students would have to program the Blue-Bot to move from one end of the card mat to the other, while avoiding obstacles, with commands like “down, left, down, down, down.”
She said first-grade students made a plow for the Blue-Bots out of tape and paper and pushed cotton balls from one end of the mat to the other, avoiding trees and mailboxes like snow plow drivers in winter.
“If you could see the excitement on student faces, they love it, they’re engaged,” Krebsbach said. “It’s amazing the skills you can take away from a short 30-minute time frame where kids can dig in and get hands-on and work together on things.”
Forecasting the future
From a district budget standpoint, the pandemic presents unknowns, said Dawn Foeller, business manager, during a budget update.
She said lawmakers in Madison could change the state budget, which could result in lower revenues for school districts across the state for the next school year.
“There’s a lot of uncertainties in the (district) budget,” Foeller said. “We’re just going to have to wait and see where that budget repair bill goes. I heard they may be bringing that forward in June.”
Leading up to what could come out of Madison in the coming months, she said she adjusted a full-time equivalent staffing increase from 4.68 down to 1.83.
Foeller also projected no increase in the revenue cap per student, which was set to increase by $179 per student for the next school year.
As one way to save money before any cuts could come, the board approved the FICA Alternative Retirement Plan for district employees not eligible for the Wisconsin Retirement System.
Foeller said the plan enables employees to contribute 7.5 percent of pre-tax wages to a personal retirement account.
She said this means the district would not have to contribute 6.2 percent of wages to social security.
Employee participation is mandatory, but she said it will result in a slight increase in take-home pay for eligible employees.
Foeller said the savings to the district will be more than $116,000.
“I did ask Dawn to find ways to reduce costs to the district,” said Superintendent Ben Villarruel. “She did research, found this and brought it forward. It puts us in a position to close that (shortfall) gap.”
Proposed district expenditures and projected revenues for 2020-21 were not presented.