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United School Board OKs new Internet provider, web host

Jeff Himler
| Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, 11:39 a.m.

United School District is looking to improve its presentation of and access to online information through agreements with Armstrong-Indiana Intermediate Unit 28 and Schoolwires, Inc.

At its Dec. 10 school board meeting, United joined other area districts in purchasing Wide Area Network, Internet and related services through an ARIN consortium. The participating districts are banding together to jointly purchase Internet services provided at a savings by Sting Communications.

According to Joshua Muscatello, director of technology for ARIN, the agreement with Sting resulted from an eight-month bidding process. He said the resulting agreements are expected to save all participating districts an average of about 20 percent on Internet service fees while United should realize a 22 percent savings.

The United board approved an initial five-year contract for the services, extending from July 1 of next year through June 30, 2019, at a cost of $2,363.59 per month.

Additional monthly fees include: $1,325 for a Wide Area Network 100 megabyte-per-second (Mbps) ethernet transport; $245 for 40 Mbps Internet access; and $85 for a basic managed firewall with equipment included.

The school board also approved a “letter of agency,” authorizing ARIN , on behalf of the district, to submit needed forms to seek federal E-rate reimbursements toward the Internet expenditures for funding years 2014 through 2020.

Upon recommendation from Robert Sarraf, an ARIN employee who is serving as United's coordinator of technology services, the board also contracted with Schoolwires to take over hosting of the district's web site.

Under an initial six-month contract, beginning Jan. 1, Schoolwires will provide web hosting and training of district staff, at a cost not to exceed $7,000. The board also approved an additional one-year contract, extending the service agreement through June 30, 2015, at an additional cost not to exceed $6,000.

Sarraf said one of the chief advantages Schoolwires will provide over the district's existing web site service is offering individual teachers pages that the instructors themselves can access and update rather than waiting for a technician to make changes.

“Each of the teachers is responsible for putting the information out there,” Sarraf noted. “As a technology department, we're going to give the power to the teachers. We don't have to go back an forth.”

Also, he said, the site will provide an improved display of photographic images, with a template available to format the content for newer models of tablets and smart phones.

Sarraf said the district web address ( probably will not change during the transition from the current site format, provided by School Center, to the new format provided by Schoolwires.

Until the transition is completed, he said, “They'll be running side by side.”

“Our goal is to have this ready by next school year, but we'd really like to have it up by June or July,” he added.

“Our people will have ownership of it,” school board President Don Davis said of the soon-to-be-revamped website. “It takes the middle man out of it.”

He said Forest Hills is among other districts where the Schoolwires service has been successfully introduced.

In a related agenda item, the school board voted to discontinue its previous web developer supplemental services agreement with independent contractor David Wilhelm. In light of the new contracts with Schoolwires, “We no longer need those services,” school board President Don Davis said.

Route 22 mini-bus added

United approved an agreement with Krise Bus Service to add a mini-bus to transport district students to school from homes along a section of Route 22 in eastern East Wheatfield Township — at Chicory Mountain, near the intersection of Roper Road. Use of the bus will cost the district $223 per day for the remainder of the 2013-14 school year.

Davis said the move was prompted by reports of motorists disobeying a state law and failing to stop for larger school buses that have halted at stops along that section of the highway, even though the buses displayed flashing red lights.

“It's a dangerous situation for our students.” Davis said. He explained the mini-bus will be able to pull into the driveways of individual students' homes so they can board and get off the bus safely. He said about nine students are expected to ride the bus, which can carry up to 24 passengers.

In personnel matters, United hired Stacy Colson as a long-term substitute for a temporary vacancy in an elementary teaching position held by Erin Staruch. Staruch has been approved for an unpaid leave from Jan. 2 through about Feb. 6.

It was noted that Becca Shaffer, who previously was hired as a long-term sub for Staruch, has since accepted a position at another school district.

Custodian Lisa Akers was approved for an unpaid leave of up to 12 weeks, beginning Jan. 1, under the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

Kathleen Jones and Darlene Sexton were appointed as respective homebound instructors for a seventh-grade student and a ninth-grade student. Each will be paid $36 per hour, in accordance with the district teachers' collective bargaining agreement.

Turning to supplemental positions, the school board approved Michael Balsley as Junior Academy of Science Adviser, at a salary of $265.30, and Tyler Capitosti as an assistant junior high wrestling coach, at $2,400.77.

Resigning from supplemental positions were: Richard Szelong, assistant junior high football coach; Greg Mytrysak, weight room supervisor; and Allison Mintmier, assistant softball coach.

Correcting an earlier miscalculation, the board set the 2013-14 salary for golf coach at $2,193.43.

Jennifer Schau, Laken Brendlinger and Donna Rosenberger were approved as guest teachers available for scheduling in the district. Such teachers are meant to supplement the pool of available substitute instructors. While lacking state certification in education, the guest teachers have college degrees and additional training provided through ARIN.

Added to the list of district volunteers for 2013-14 were: Shannon Pisarcik and Kelly Hill, at the elementary school; Clay Skedel, for the wrestling program; and Ellen Piper, for library services.

United also agreed for the 2014-15 school year to participate in the Western PA Gasoline/Diesel/Heating Oil Consortium, which is managed by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.

The district will support the ALPHA Program offered through the Community Guidance Center in Indiana, paying a stipend of $3,942.59 for the current school year. According to the Guidance Center's web site, the program provides both counseling and academic classes for students in grades 7-12 with emotional difficulties and has the goal of preparing them to return to classes in their home district.

United approved an agreement with INFOCON Corporation to print Homestead/Farmstead applications for the district. The applications are distributed to district property owners who may be eligible to seek a reduction of their real estate tax bill funded through state gambling proceeds.

The school board approved a memorandum of understanding with state police providing for troopers to respond when needed to incidents at district facilities.

The board also agreed to offer the “Too Good For Drugs” drug education program to students in grades 4-6. The program is provided by the Armstrong-Indiana-Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission.

Kristie Good was authorized to accompany about 25 students to the Pennsylvania State Farm Show and the FFA Mid-Winter Convention Jan. 6-7 in Harrisburg. The trip will cost $1,370.

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or

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