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Awash in relief funds, Libby schools set spending priorities

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | December 18, 2020 7:00 AM

Libby Public Schools administrators have found themselves with a large pot of money they need to spend — and fast.

Superintendent Ron Goodman said the district has $340,000 in coronavirus relief funds that need to be spent by the end of the month.

Already, the district has used relief dollars to increase substitute pay, cover cleaning costs and provide meals for students.

During a Dec. 8 school board meeting, Goodman said he had identified areas where the school could channel the funds: general infrastructure, technology training for staff and hardware for both the elementary and middle high school. Goodman argued that updating the school’s infrastructure systems, meaning its wireless network, servers, firewalls and other supporting technology should be the top priority for the district.

“If that isn’t updated it's all for naught,” he said.

In total, school administrators have calculated $159,000 worth of infrastructure needs.

Aging wireless access points have already put a strain on Wi-Fi networks at Libby schools. Students at both the elementary and middle high schools have reported getting dropped intermittently from the system. While nothing is wrong with the devices themselves, Goodman said the software used by the five- to six-year-old machines was no longer being updated.

To replace the system, the district is looking to purchase newer models that run for $300 a piece. The total bill for the upgraded devices: $27,000.

Goodman said they also are looking to revamp part of the elementary school’s heating system. When new heaters were last installed, the district did not upgrade those in the library or the lunchroom. Goodman has proposed purchasing two new heaters, one for each room, at $40,000 apiece.

These upgrades are critical, Goodman told the board, as the old heaters currently warming the rooms are nearing the end of their lifespan. Already two of the three cabinet heaters in the library are out of operation. Goodman said the district did not have the parts to fix the remaining heater if it malfunctioned.

“It’s just a matter of time before we have no heat in the library, which would be a problem,” he said.

The new heating system Goodman has proposed would include air filters which could help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

The school district’s phone system is also badly in need of an upgrade according to Goodman. The changes to the system are inexpensive, he said, and may save the school money every month.

In a follow-up interview, Goodman said administrators would spend roughly $94,000 of the relief funds to supply all students and teachers across the district with an iPad or Chromebook. While the devices would be a boon for the district, Goodman noted that they would all become obsolete at once. This would mean that rather than budgeting every year for a piecemeal replacement of the technology, administrators would have to be prepared to make another large purchase of equipment in roughly six years.

To reduce the amount of labor needed to set up the schools’ new iPads, Goodman said the district was looking to get a Mobile Device Manager. The system would allow administrators to remotely install apps and manage software on the schools’ devices. Setting up the system would require $3,000 to $4,000 upfront.

In February, Goodman hopes to organize a training session for teachers learning to use the new devices.