School board news: New robotics lab, Canvas, health insurance

New robotics lab approved for high school

Project Lead the Way courses are so popular at Brown County High School that students are on a waiting list to get into them.

Teacher Chris Townsend proposed a way to add more advanced PLW courses by adding a robotics lab in a classroom previously used for theater department storage.

The approximate cost to remodel classroom 404 into a robotics lab is $20,548 with work being done by the district’s maintenance team, Superintendent Laura Hammack said.

Robotics classes that are certified by the Indiana Department of Education as Career and Technical Education courses are eligible for reimbursement from the state, Hammack said.

“We can recoup from student participation pretty quickly on the implementation of this room, and what a wonderful opportunity for our boys and girls to participate in robotics programming,” she said.

Townsend’s classrooms currently take up rooms 408 and 403 and include multiple workbenches, student work stations and a computer lab.

“I’ve been to his classroom. He is so excited to be sharing what they’re doing and you can tell he’s so excited about teaching,” said school board member Stephanie Kritzer said of Townsend.

The board did not object to the addition.

District phasing in online organizational tool

Through next fall, Brown County Schools will phase in the use of Canvas for the fifth through 12th grades.

Canvas is an online program used to manage courses. It is used to store classroom materials and homework assignments and is a place where students — and soon parents — will go to see test dates and project deadlines.

The high school will start using it it first, proceeding down to lower grades, said Debbie Harman, director of student learning.

Canvas is being implemented in three stages for teachers, students and parents first at the high school. A meeting to train parents in Canvas is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 6.

Parent Robyn Bowman expressed frustration at the Oct. 20 school board meeting about not being able to see her child’s homework assignments and test schedule through Skyward, which the district had been using in a similar manner. Teachers have switched from using individual websites to posting information on Canvas, Bowman said.

Bowman said she didn’t want to wait until Dec. 6 to learn how to use her parent Canvas account. Harman offered to have her test an account ahead of that meeting.

High school teachers are being coached by other teachers who have become “local experts” on Canvas. Students will be trained in Canvas during their weekly advisory period, Harman said.

Beginning in January 2016, parents will be enrolled in the Canvas system as observers in their student’s courses so they can learn their role in it, Harman said.

High-schoolers can visit the student-run help desk in their building with technical questions like how to log in. Second semester, students also will be able to ask for help by clicking a button in the program that sends a notification.

A later stage for parents may include a “parent-to-parent hour” at which parents offer and learn helpful tips about using the program, Harman said.

School board holds off on changing health care plan

A proposal to raise health insurance premiums for Brown County Schools employees is going back under review.

At the Oct. 20 school board meeting, Superintendent Laura Hammack expressed concern about the cost burden on employees and on the district.

“At the beginning of the school year when learning about our insurance program, I was very concerned because we had learned that for two years in a row our employees had had a burden of a significant increase in their health insurance premiums. The board has picked up a considerable portion of those premiums,” Hammack said.

Premium payments received from employees and the school board still do not cover the entire health care bill for the district, she said.

Through lump sum payments, the board has covered this gap, she said. Hammack said the district recently sent a check for more than $200,000 to meet the remaining balance and that has been done twice.

“Dunn (and Associates) explained that we’ve had several cases historically over the last few years that have been very large claim cases which have gotten us into the place of being in this overage area,” Hammack said.

Dunn and Associates is the corporation’s third-party benefits administrator.

Reinsurance kicks in at $95,000, but two employees have been “lasered” by the reinsurance company because of large health cases, she said. This means coverage doesn’t kick in until one employee hits $150,000 in claims and another bypasses $250,000.

“We have had to cover those two lasers, which, when you start adding up a couple different years’ worth of dollars, all of a sudden you get to that gap of a half a million that has been covered up and over premiums received,” Hammack said.

After meeting with Dunn and Associates and the district’s insurance team, Hammack said she was bothered by their suggestion to double employee premiums.

“We had teachers who about fell out of their chairs, because we’d just given them a very nice raise,” Hammack said.

Hammack spoke with Dunn and Associates after the meeting and the conclusion was that “it’s not a good time to do a shift,” she said.

She said she also wants to look at other options from different companies.

She asked the board to approve an agreement with Educational Services for $5,000 to $7,000, to do a review of the district’s health insurance plan. That’s the same firm the district used to put together the 2017 budget.

The board approved the agreement.