BENNINGTON — With the pending retirement of Director of Educational Technology Frank Barnes, the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union board plans to hire a technology services firm to fill the role.
Superintendent James Culkeen recommended hiring an Orange, Mass., company to work with the tech team and provide support services once Barnes, the director since 2011, retires at the end of the month.
A unanimous vote by the board Wednesday followed a presentation from company owner Adam Suzor, who said Suzor IT provides tech services to school districts and municipalities in Western Massachusetts.
Rather than search for a new director, Culkeen said it would be better to hire a firm that could provide a range of IT services.
The current IT staff other than the director will remain, which should allow for “a seamless transition,” Culkeen said.
He said he heard positive reviews about Suzor IT from other school officials. The change should provide “more extensive depths of back-up” for information technology systems, Culkeen said, adding, “I see it as an expansion of services” with an “economical model.”
The contract for services was said to be $131,250 for a year of service, with the bulk of that amount to come from the current IT director salary and benefits line.
Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Director of Finances Renee Gordon told the board that the amount available in the budget line is about $18,900 short of the contract amount, but she expects money left over in other line items — some now designated for duplicate IT services from other vendors — to cover the cost.
The first school year with Suzor IT “would give us a chance to evaluate how this works for our system,” Culkeen said.
Suzor told board members there would be a person assigned to the supervisory union, but that behind that person would be a team of employees and partners from around the region, providing a wide range of IT experience and services.
He said there will be a “virtual office” that students, parents and others could connect with about computer or internet problems. That would be available from about 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, Suzor said.
He said the firm also could help identify needs and plans for IT system upgrades and the regular replacement of equipment or infrastructure.
Board member Leon Johnson asked whether there would be benchmarks or a system to evaluate the new IT format over the coming year.
Suzor said the firm is familiar with reporting on progress and has developed templates for doing so, adding that quarterly reports would be possible.
The board also voted to send Barnes a letter of thanks upon his retirement from the supervisory union.
Culkeen praised him for transforming the school IT system from the computer lab era to one in which students are provided with their own devices, such as Chromebook laptops.
“He spearheaded that drive,” Culkeen said of Barnes.