School Board urges state to consider multi-vendor info system
By Jennifer Eisenbart
In a rare show of unity Monday night, the Burlington Area School District School Board voted unanimously to send a letter of protest to the state regarding its selection of a single student school information system.
Following a discussion about the state’s decision to choose Infinite Campus as its provider for the SSIS – State Student Information System – and having questions answered by BASD Director of Technology Scott Christensen, Board Member Phil Ketterhagen made a motion to have Superintendent Peter Smet draft a letter advocating a multi-vendor system.
The vote was unanimous among the board members who attended Monday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting – Rosanne Hahn, William Campbell, Ketterhagen, David Thompson and Larry Anderson. Scott Barrett and Roger Koldeway were absent.
Koldeway had attempted to listen via telephone to both the COW meeting and the preceding Curriculum Committee meeting, but got disconnected as the COW meeting began. He said Tuesday he also supports the letter.
Smet provided School Board members with two differing opinions on the SSIS – one from Michael Thompson of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instructions explaining why the state chose the SSIS and the process it went about in choosing Infinite Campus as the single provider.
On the other side of the argument was Skyward – the district’s current SSIS vendor – which sent a letter to BASD saying the district will be forced to switch within five years and a multi-vendor system was in everyone’s best interest.
That opinion was shared by everyone on the board.
Hahn said the situation was discussed at the delegate assembly of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards annual meeting, and many school boards are not in favor of one system. Smet also said several school boards in the state have taken a stance either against Infinite Campus – or at the least, having a multi-vendor system.
“The opportunity is before the board to take a stand, if they wish to do so,” Smet said.
Burlington is one of several area schools to use Skyward – a Stevens Point-based company. Infinite Campus operates out of Minnesota. Ironically, only one school in the Southern Lakes Conference – Westosha Central – uses Infinite Campus. BASD, Wilmot, Elkhorn and Union Grove use Skyward, while Waterford, Delavan-Darien and Badger use Power School.
One of the major sticking points in a switch is cost – both for switching systems and in training. Christensen explained that the district already uses 10 different modules from Skyward, with every teacher using it for attendance and grading.
He estimated it would cost about $150,000 to switch systems.
“The concern I have, as Peter noted, is that we’ve been doing Skyward for more than 13 years,” Christensen explained. He added that, with the various modules being added at different times, the whole district had been trained over a period of time.
Switching, he said, would add a burden in that everyone would need to be retrained at once – and that was just staff. Parents and students would also have to learn a new system.
What appeared to frustrate Christensen the most, though, was the lack of answers coming from the various providers and from the state.
“Their answers continue to be, ‘There’s an appeal, there’s a lawsuit,’” said Christensen, adding that more than 50 percent of the state’s districts already use Skyward.
The board agreed that the letter not only needed to support a multi-vendor system, but also point out the issues of switching to a new system – especially the costs.
“I know it’s going to be a mandate, unfunded,” Hahn said. “Thank you, state.
“I think we should let the state know we’re not in favor of it.”