School board says no to Walking Mountains, yes to $510K scholastic app | VailDaily.com

School board says no to Walking Mountains, yes to $510K scholastic app

Pre School student Roy DeHart III, 3, plays with the Footsteps2Brilliance app on a tablet at the Fitchburg Flourishes Early Learning Literacy summit on Thursday morning, May 4,2017 held at Fitchburg High School. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE/JOHN LOVE

EAGLE — The school board split a combined $1 million worth of questions at Wednesday's meeting.

The board approved $510,000 for a scholastic app to be available to every child in the county, not just those enrolled in schools, but denied a $500,000 request for Walking Mountains Science Center's new science center in northwest Eagle County.

Scholastic App

Eagle County Schools will be Colorado's first district to buy Footsteps2Brilliance, an app designed to help pre-kindergarten through third-grade children acquire language skills and make them more ready to learn when they enter the early grades.

Reviews say the app is particularly effective with kids whose native language is not English. Eagle County's students are 36 percent English language learners.

Apps for everyone

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If it works as it's supposed to, every kid with access to a smartphone will also have free access to the app and its audio-encoded books, songs and games, which are designed to develop vocabulary, comprehension, literacy and writing skills.

The information is designed to toggle back and forth between two or more languages.

"It will touch every child in the county, not just school-age children. That's also key," said Heather Eberts, the school district's assistant superintendent of learning services. "The community-wide reach was huge for us."

At its last meeting, the school board sat through a high-energy sales pitch more suited to QVC or the Home Shopping Network.

However, several senior district administrators met with the salesman the next day and came away singing the app's praises.

"They have tapped into the modern technology. Everyone has a phone. They can have it (the app) before they ever get to us," Ebert said.

Because it's available on smartphones, kids have 24-hour access to the information, instead of just during the school day, Eberts said.

The money would be paid throughout five years, which is the length of the contract.

"You cannot access every kid for 365 days a year for $100,000 a year," Eberts said.

Napa County, California schools were among the country's first districts to use the multi-lingual app, and saw their preschool students language skill soar.

The app has been around since 2015, and counts the Clinton Foundation among its proponents.

CEO and founder Ilene Rosenthal launched the company in 2011. She also co-founded Light Span in 1992, one of the first educational video game companies. She's a former teacher, an attorney and former U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia. Co-founder Eugene Narciso has spent 15 years designing educational tech. He started his career as an English teacher in the L.A. Unified School District.

Walking Mountains won't get $500,000

The school board said no to Walking Mountains Science Center's request for $500,000 to build infrastructure at Walking Mountains' new center in Sweetwater.

Board members Felicia Battle, Tessa Kirchner and Patrick Hirn said it was too much to donate right now, and this is not the way the school board promised taxpayers it would spend 3A and 3B money, which voters approved last year.

Yes, the district could make the donation, but should not, the board said.

"I draw a distinction between supporting Walking Mountains' vision, and spending a half million dollars on it," Battle said.

Hirn said Walking Mountains was initially included in last year's ballot questions, but was removed when it polled poorly. The district has the money, Hirn said, because voters approved those tax increases.

Superintendent Jason Glass advocated for the donation.

"We see it as a way to do a lot of good, and it's something we can afford to do," Glass said.

"I appreciate that this is unusual for you as a board to consider, but it's a great investment for the district," said Markian Feduschak, president of Walking Mountains Science Center.

The motion died in 3-3 tie vote.

Walking Mountains bought the land from Vail Mountain School on July 23, 2015, for $600,000, according to Eagle County records.

Those 224 acres are now worth $739,610, according to the county's 2017 assessment. VMS paid $450,000 for the land in 1997. Walking Mountains raised $5 million in 2015, according to its tax returns. Of that $5 million, $4.1 million was raised through philanthropic sources, and $900,000 from contract services and program revenue.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

Teachers union contract approved

The teachers’ union’s 2017-18 contract saw four significant financial wins for its members:

• Pay raise: Teachers will get a 1 percent salary increase, on the heels of an 11 percent pay raise in January and a 2.5 percent raise in 2015-16. The district’s executive-level staffers do not get a raise this year.

• Increasing retirement payments: The school district will contribute 19.9 percent of each employee’s annual salary to PERA, the state’s Public Employees Retirement Account, beginning with the 2017-18 school year. State lawmakers mandated that the amount continue to ratchet up every years for the next few years in an attempt to keep the fund solid. It’s a tradeoff, though. It will limit what the district can spend money on in the future, district officials said.

• Performance pay: The school district’s performance bonus pay will hit employees’ second September paycheck. Employees are eligible for a bonus up to their 2017-18 base salary.

• Health insurance: The district will absorb all of the 10 percent increase to employees’ health insurance premiums, a total of $986,000.

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