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Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

Parents to get quick alert of school safety issues

By Janie Southard
ST. MARYS - Communication was the apparent theme at the board of education meeting Tuesday night, with steps taken to broaden the scope and more steps to rein it in.
School board members approved a contract for a message delivery system that can make thousands of calls in minutes to alert parents and necessary community members of safety problems, early dismissals, report card days, etc.
"Last year when there was the bank robbery near West school, several staff members did very well alerting our parents within 15 minutes of the problem and what we were doing ... This system can automatically make 6,000 calls a minute," Kyle Menchhofer, district technology coordinator, told the school board.
The district's main purpose for the new communication system would be safety and emergency issues, but its uses are just about limitless.
Menchhofer and various board members listed a number of possibilities for the system: two-hour school delays, PTO meeting reminders, a student's absence/tardiness, lock down, athletic events, among many others.
He said schools that use this system are seeing a great improvement in student attendance. "If your parents are receiving messages at work that you're not in school that day, it's (an incentive) to get to school," he said.
Parents can choose up to six lines of communication, i.e., e-mail, voice mail at home or at work, text messaging and so on.
The system costs $2.55 per student per year, which would be handled through student fees at the beginning of the year. The contract is for three-years with an option at the end of that time to renew at the same cost for three more three-year contracts. So, it would be possible for the district to use this system for 12 years with a lock-in cost of $2.55 per student per year.
However, student communication opportunities will be greatly limited next school year when the new cell-phone-at-school regulation takes effect.
Board members approved the 2008-2009 Memorial High School Student Handbook, which states students may not have a cell phone "on their person during the instructional day (7:55-3:00) including lunch." Violators will receive a Saturday school for the first offense. Multiple offenses may result in further discipline. A parent may be contacted to pick up a phone that has been confiscated.
Further, cell phones may not be used to take pictures, video or for voice recordings at anytime. Students in extra-curricular activities must contact the coach or adviser for cell phone rules.
None of the following devices are permitted to be in student possession on any district campus or at district-sponsored activities: two-way radios, pagers, PDAs and laptops with two-way messaging, walkie-talkies, radio phones, wireless devices, laser pointers, portable gaming devices and voice recording devices.
In other action, board members:
• Learned the sale of the Fortman and Vogel properties has been completed. The Fortman 73-acre tract cost the district $1 million. The Vogel property of slightly more than an acre was sold to the district for $1. These are the properties for the new school. Board members also approved the annexation of these two parcels to the city of St. Marys.
• Learned searches are underway for a new athletic director and a new principal for the junior high school.
• Accepted an anonymous donation of a Kimball baby grand piano. Superintendent Ken Baker said the only expense is about $300 to move and tune the instrument, which is valued at about $10,000. "It's in excellent condition," he added.
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