School website will be outsourced

By Katie Friedman Correspondent

At its most recent meeting, Monday, April 9, following a lengthy discussion with Technology Coordinator Randy Benoit and Technology Assistant Melissa Jensen, the Maple Lake School Board approved a switch of the school district’s Website from a homemade product to a commercial one.

As of now, the district hosts its own Website from an in-house server, and the price tag has always precluded an upgrade. But with new technology dollars granted by last year’s successful referendum, it is an option the Technology Committee has chosen to recommend. Superintendent Mark Redemske brought the idea to board members last month, leading Board Chair Joe Paumen to request further information as to specific benefits a professional host could provide as compared to the home-generated product that has been used since the school Website’s creation. Benoit and Jensen came to the April meeting to answer questions and guide board members to an informed decision.

The issue of cost was soon diffused by the fact that the district would require one less server than it currently employs. Blackboard K- 12 – highly rated by customers and currently used by both Monticello and Annandale – charges $6,023 for initial setup and the first year of service, with an annual $1,400 cost thereafter. The district now uses four servers, each with a six-year lifespan and an $8,000 price tag. The school’s Website server is due for replacement in two years – a cost that Benoit said would no longer be necessary with the adoption of a host server.

The question was raised as to whether the money might be better spent upgrading software or purchasing other technology equipment, and after some discussion there was general agreement that the use of the host’s server, software, and time would more than pay for any the district could procure and maintain for itself.

Redemske identified responsiveness as a common complaint with the current product, as it does not always synchronize well with mobile devices, and said a host server would alleviate much of that problem. In this age of online information seeking, he added, the Website is often the first impression received by newcomers and has come to be “the face of our district.” Benoit interjected that device compatibility issues would not be completely solved by any host, and with some upgrades he had not yet priced out, the district’s home server could be improved in that area.

It was agreed that the site could use more frequent refreshment, and Jensen suggested that with design in the hands of outsourced professionals, school staff would be freed up to make more regular updates, allowing the district to put its “best foot forward.” While Blackboard K-12 will host the data, school staff will still update pages, and many more staff members will be enabled to do so.

A motion to contract with Blackboard K-12 was passed with Boardmember Rick Thomas abstaining, saying he felt he did not have enough knowledge or expertise in this area to make a decision one way or another.

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