More from the school board: bonds, tech plans and farewells

By Lawrence school board standards, it was a pretty lengthy and eventful meeting Monday night. The big news, of course, was the new contract for teachers that gives them an average 3-percent pay raise next year, coupled with comparable increases for administrators and support staff.

But there was other news too, so here’s a quick roundup of the board’s other actions Monday:

• Bond issue: In April, voters gave the school board authority to issue $92.5 million in bonds to pay for building improvements, technology upgrades and expansion of the district’s career and technical education programs.

On Monday, the board passed a resolution to issue the first $40 million of those bonds. District officials actually expect to sell only about $36 million in that initial batch, but the resolution leaves them a little bit of wiggle room.

The plan is to issue the bonds in phases over the next two years as the district also retires some its older bonds. That’s supposed to keep the overall debt load of the district about even so there won’t be a need to raise property taxes.

Blackboard: It’s probably a sign of aging if that word comes up in conversation and you need to have it explained to you in its modern context. Here, it refers to a specific online platform that teachers will soon use to manage their classrooms.

This has to do with the shift to the “blended classroom” model of learning, which uses a combination of online learning and traditional teacher-led instruction. The district did a small-scale pilot test of blended classrooms this past year, and will expand the concept next year into at least two classrooms in every building.

In that system, all of the reading material, the daily assignments, quizzes, tests and everything else that goes into a class are loaded into an online “shell.”

Theoretically, students can log into that system anytime day or night, from anywhere they happen to be, and look at video of their teacher’s lecture, complete their daily assignments, take tests and submit their essays or term papers. Teachers also use the system to monitor each student’s progress and provide feedback.

In short, the district has been looking at two different software systems: Canvas and Blackboard Learn. On Monday, it chose Blackboard Learn, at a cost of $498,300 over the next five years. That’s the same system that Kansas University uses in many of its classes.

That was a bit surprising since the district had been using Canvas during the initial pilot test, and because Canvas’ bid was more than $100,000 lower than Blackboard Learn’s. But district officials said the Blackboard Learn bid included professional training for the teachers who will be using it.

Final meeting: Monday was the last meeting of the current fiscal year, and the last meeting for two board members: Bob Byers, who lost his bid for re-election this year, and Mark Bradford, who did not run for re-election. Bradford was absent Monday, and so said his farewells at the last meeting June 10.

Monday was also the last meeting at which Vanessa Sanburn will serve as board president, at least for the time being.

At the next meeting July 9, newly-elected members Adina Morse and Kristie Adair will be sworn into office. The first order of business will be to elect a new board president and vice-president.

The tradition on the Lawrence school board has been to rotate the president’s position in order of how many votes each member received in their last election.

It’s expected that board vice president Rick Ingram will move up to become president, and Shannon Kimball will become the next vice president.

If the board holds to that tradition, Kimball would become president for the 2014-15 school year, and Sanburn would become vice president under Kimball. Then Sanburn would become president again in 2015-16.