Ann Work Goodrich, Wichita Falls Independent School District via Times Record News
The Wichita Falls Independent School District recently completed a two-stage project to “future-proof” its wide-area network – an important step now that WFISD board members are making long-term facility plans that may include building new schools and consolidating, renovating or closing other schools.
The result is the most flexible, reliable, and robust network that WFISD has ever had – and one that simultaneously saves thousands of taxpayer dollars every month.
To do it, WFISD installed its own dark-fiber network, allowing the largest school district in North Texas to control its network and infrastructure.
WFISD built a total of 29 sites for its dark fiber project in a two-stage process that began in the summer of 2018 and was completed in the summer of 2019. The installation of its own fiber connecting all its schools to its four hubs frees WFISD from dependence on other networks.
In fact, once the project was complete, and WFISD’s contracts with its previous network expired, and the dark fiber was finally lit — or used – the monthly cost to the district for all its high-speed connectivity dropped from $48,000 per month to $8,000 per month. That saves $40,000 taxpayer dollars every month.
WFISD met the only potential downside of the project – the large up-front cost of a dark fiber network – with strategic use of federal and state money.
The Federal Communications Commission encourages school districts to install a dark fiber network because of its eventual cost-savings potential. So the FCC offered school districts federal E-rate funds based on the number of students who qualified for free and reduced lunches.
With 80 percent of its population qualifying for free and reduced lunches, WFISD became an 80 percent district, meaning E-rate funding paid 80 percent of every dollar spent on WFISD’s dark fiber network. Then, the state offered a matching funds grant that picked up 19 percent of the remaining 20 percent in costs. That left WFISD to pay a mere 1 percent of the large, up-front dark fiber bill.
“The main reason we went with dark fiber is for control of our network in regard to speed, reliability and overall up-time,” said Jason Shawn, WFISD’s Network Operations Manager. “We saved an enormous amount of monthly money for the taxpayers.”
He and WFISD Chief Technology Officer Shad McGaha talked for several years about making the leap to dark fiber. They calculated WFISD’s projected student counts and growth projections for the next 10 years to determine how much bandwidth WFISD would need, then put the bid out to service providers to see what it would cost.
“We figured we could do it less expensively,” said McGaha of the dark fiber option. Better yet, if needs changed and the school district demanded even faster speeds for its network, a dark fiber network would enable WFISD to quickly adapt.
“We tried to future-proof ourselves,” said Shawn. “We have the fiber in the ground. To increase speeds, we can change the hardware on both ends to make it faster if we need to.”
Currently, WFISD supports about 28,000 devices – Chromebooks, desktop computers, laptops, phones, iPads, Macintosh computers, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such as thermostats, air quality monitors and cameras. McGaha estimates the needed bandwidth at 1 GB of bandwidth per 1,000 students. “It’s extremely fast,” he said.
But in the end, users don’t care about dark fiber, but only about seamless performance, which is now top-notch, said Shawn. “You just want something that works.”
And, in schools, it needs to work every day, without exception.
“Our main goal is to make sure we’re not disrupting instruction. We want to have a reliable network that our users – our staff and students – can rely on,” said Shawn. “That’s what we’ve done with dark fiber. We’ve saved taxpayers money, but we’ve made it a reliable and robust network for our end users.”
Claire Kowalick, Wichita Falls Times Records News
Out of eight architectural companies that bid on possible bond projects and renovations for the Wichita Falls ISD, three groups were interviewed, and one company stood out above the rest.
During a special session of the board of trustees Tuesday afternoon, the board approved moving forward with BYSP Architects for designs and construction documents related to the upcoming bond projects.
After the request for proposal was published, three groups gave presentations Feb. 4, in front of a committee.
The board did not yet have a cost estimate for BYSP’s service, but they will meet again to approve the dollar figure once it is in hand, before any funds are spent.
The bond proposal could come up in the November 2020 elections.
During a presentation about long-range facilities planning, Superintendent Michael Kuhrt and the board discussed several variations of three options for elementary, middle and high schools in the district.
Kuhrt said the district is trying to see if there is a way to address the needs of the middle and elementary schools in this first bond.
Option “A” proposes adding 32 cents to the tax rate, bringing it to $1.47 to fund construction of two new high schools.
Once the old high schools are vacated, the question then is how, or if, the district can make Rider, Hirschi, Barwise and possibly Wichita Falls High School habitable for middle-school use.
Trish Choate, Wichita Falls Times Record News
The two-high school plan that has appealed to Wichita Falls ISD trustees would save nearly $6 million over another option for having two high schools in the district, according to preliminary figures.
The price tag for the plan trustees like amounts to approximately $292.4 million as outlined in a draft proposal WFISD Superintendent Michael Kuhrt presented earlier this month.
Trustees still in planning stages for modernized schools
Trustees, however, are still deep in the planning stage to modernize school facilities They have made no decisions yet on moving forward with a proposal and bonds to finance it to put before voters — possibly Nov. 3.
“The feedback I’ve received … from political consultants and others who specialize in bond elections and voter turnout is that we need a big turnout,” WFISD Board President Elizabeth Yeager said at a Nov. 18 school board meeting.
“And the best opportunity for that is November 2020 if we want to pass a bond,” Yeager said.
She said they will continue their discussions on facilities modernization at another meeting soon.
Here is the option supported by trustees:
High school No. 1:
- 363,280 square feet
- Includes International Baccalaureate Program
- Maximum capacity of 1,695 students
- Functional capacity of 1,526 students
- Total estimated project cost of $145.2 million
High school No. 2
- 351,672 square feet
- 100 students from high school No. 2 to attend the International Baccalaureate Program at high school No. 1
- 1,595 maximum capacity students
- 1,426 functional capacity students
- Total estimated project cost of $147.2 million
Wichita Falls ISD Superintendent Michael Kuhrt encouraged trustees to think outside the box of a traditional classroom during a school board meeting Monday night.
Kuhrt gave a presentation on different types of classrooms, common areas and teacher workspaces for board members to mull over as they lay plans to modernize school facilities.
“I think we’re building schools for the 22nd Century because we keep them that long,” he said. “So I think they have to be different and have a different type of flexibility.”
Among the possibilities Kuhrt presented was a school with a large common area combining library facilities, a meeting place and a stage.
“That’s a different kind of structure than one that has 8-foot, 10-foot high ceilings and closed-off hallways and things like that where you don’t have these big areas,” he said.
City of Wichita Falls Utilities Director Daniel Nix said the partnership with the ISD for a water program was one of his first orders of business when he began at the city in July 2008.
While a Class D is merely an entry-level certification, the piece of paper is a great asset to getting people started in the water profession.
Water certification can open doors of opportunity
Water certifications range from the entry-level D up to Class A.
Wastewater Supervisor Harold Burris explained to the class Tuesday that as a person moves forward through the certification process, they branch off into working with groundwater or surface water.
Certifications in class C and B focus on either ground or surface water before a candidate receives a Class A certification, which requires a vast knowledge of both systems.
Nix said the curriculum comes from the Texas Engineering Extension Service and the high-school students receive the same training as a newly hired city water-treatment operator.
In the future, Nix said he would like to work with the Texas section of the American Water Works Association (TAWWA) to see what they can do to help water programs spread across the state.
WFISD trustees could go to voters with a bond election in May or November 2020 although they have made no decisions, he said.
However, the school board is focusing on a plan with two high schools with the same UIL status, he said.
“We want them to be equal schools,” WFISD Superintendent Mike Kuhrt said. “They’re going to look alike, feel alike, everything alike.”
Members of People Invested in the Equity of Reallocating our Schools have spoken out in support of a concept with two UIL high schools of equal enrollment, including one on the north side of town, according to a previous Times Record News story.
PIERS formed to support Hirschi High School and promote equity as WFISD makes plans to modernize schools.
Get the full story from Times Record News here.
Times Record News Article | August 28, 2019
Wichita Falls ISD trustees still have more work ahead to hammer out a plan to modernize school facilities after hashing through elementary school options in a marathon work session Tuesday night.
WFISD Board members might be able to create a timeline including costs within the next month or so after a couple more such meetings, Superintendent Michael Kuhrt told trustees during the three-hour meeting.
“The most awesome thing we have going now is that people are saying when and not why because everyone, I think, has agreed that we need to do something,” Kuhrt said.
Read the full article here.
Here’s an update on the progress of WFISD bond planning and Modern School Catalyst for Wichita Falls.
- The deadline to announce a bond election for November 2019 is August 19, 2019
- The WFISD Board decided more time was needed to develop a comprehensive bond package and market it appropriately to the public
- The proposed election will be postponed to sometime in 2020; quite possibly in Nov. 2020
- By allowing more time, it will give the Board the opportunity to come to a better consensus on the right plan
- Volunteer groups, like the Falls Future Action Team, can continue to offer support and continue spreading the word about needed facility upgrades
- The “Building the Falls Future PAC” has been formed and will serve as an independent fundraising and marketing arm supporting the proposed bond
- As the bond plan progresses and materializes, we will further organize volunteer groups to “get out the vote”
- Tshirts will soon be distributed with the slogan “The Future is Bright” intended to show support for WFISD improvements; selling for $10 per shirt
Come back soon to continue monitoring the progress of this Catalyst.
The Action Team last met as a group at the CEC (Career Education Center) and discussed ways that the Team can assist WFISD in developing and promoting a plan for modern school facilities. They were joined by Superintendent Kuhrt and WFISD Board member Bob Payton.
Since that time, several new Board members took office and they have outlined their timeline for developing the next bond package to construct new facilities and consolidate existing ones. Here’s the summary:
- The Board agreed that a May 2019 vote was too soon so they opted to put the next bond on the November 2019 ballot
- A public survey was circulated in December 2018 that will provide community feedback on what the public believes is needed
- The Board is currently forming two citizen committees to meet from February to May 2019 to develop the facility plans
- One group will focus on secondary schools and the other group will focus on elementary
- The secondary schools committee will focus on construction of a new high school or schools
- The elementary committee will focus on consolidation of existing facilities and whether new construction is needed in certain areas
- They plan to have a final package ready by the end of May 2019
- The vote is expected to be placed on the November 2019 ballot giving time during the Summer and early Fall for community education about the bond package
This Action Team is unique in that they are following the timeline set forth by the WFISD Board. Their purpose is to promote economic development and educational improvement in the Wichita Falls region by helping in this process. They will have the opportunity to assist WFISD in promoting the chosen plan and educating the public about the benefits of creating modern facilities.
A March meeting is planned to discuss specific ways that the Modern Schools Action Team can benefit this initiative.
Facility upgrades needed in the Wichita Falls Independent School District to boost student experiences, community pride, and external perceptions.
The survey said…
On the online survey administered as part of the public input process, more than 1,300 individuals indicated that they or one of their children had attended a Wichita Falls Independent School District (WFISD) in the past five years. Approximately 62 percent of these individuals agreed with the statement, “Children in this district receive a high-quality education.” But roughly the same proportion – 65 percent – agreed with the statement, “The quality of our public schools inhibit our community’s growth.” These responses may seem contradictory at first, but they are likely a product of a prominent theme to emerge from public input: stakeholders widely believe that the district’s facilities – especially its high schools – are outdated.
Input participants noted that residents and outsiders alike are naturally drawn to comparing Wichita Falls to other communities around North Texas that have made major investments in school facilities in recent years. According to these stakeholders, the fact that Wichita Falls’ facilities are viewed less favorably serves as a major barrier to attracting and retaining residents and businesses. There is also a strong connection between facility quality and student learning. According to the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy Analysis (CEEPA) at Penn State, “school facilities affect health, behavior, engagement, learning, and growth in achievement. Thus, researchers generally conclude that without adequate facilities and resources, it is extremely difficult to serve large numbers of children with complex needs.”
Stakeholders acknowledge that upgrading WFISD’s facilities will require significant investments. The consensus belief among these individuals is that the return on these investments will far outweigh the costs.
CONNECTIONS TO COMMUNITY GOALS
Attract and retain residents and businesses: Stakeholders said modern school facilities are crucial to the community’s ability to attract and retain talent.
Increase prosperity for all residents: A more competitive community would raise standards of living in the long run.
Enhance quality of life and quality of place: Modern school facilities would deliver a significant aesthetic enhancement to the community.
Promote inclusivity and equity: Upgrades would likely impact all students in WFISD.
Improve internal and external perceptions of Wichita Falls: Modern school facilities would increase community pride and help change the image of Wichita Falls among prospective residents.
Darrell Coleman, Patterson Family of Dealerships
Ben Hoover, City of Wichita Falls
Teresa Pontius Caves, Wichita Falls Community Foundation
Gonzalo Robles, Café Con Leche
Nicholas Schreiber, SLA Architects
Dr. Shelley Sweatt, Priddy Foundation
Michael Olaya, Dexter Learning
Allen Flack, MD, United Regional Health Care System
Jed Grisel, Texoma ENT
Dr. James Johnston, Midwestern State University
Nancy Marks, Nancy Marks
Kristi Faulkner, United Regional Health Care System
David Cook, Boley-Featherston Insurance
Steve Wood, Bundy, Young, Sims & Potter, Inc.
Phyllis Cowling, United Regional Health Care System
Michael Wenk, SAFB Airmen Family Readiness Center School Liaison