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Jackson R-2 School Board approves fiber optic replacement project due to squirrel damage

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The Jackson R-2 School Board approved a $126,650 project to replace fiber optic cables that have been damaged due to squirrels chewing through the lines. The board approved Eastern Missouri Industries of Jackson to complete the project during its Sept. 12 regular board meeting.

Eastern Missouri Industries had the lowest of three bids, with Coastal Bay of Bloomfield and Pro Digs Directional of Perryville also submitting bids.

The new fiber optic cables will be installed underground instead of being aerial lines to help protect them from wildlife. Assistant Superintendent Keenan Kinder said the district is responsible for the fiber optic lines between district buildings.

“The district has fiber optic running throughout the district,” Kinder said. “It’s five strands of fiber cable that run in the overall conduit and in some locations, we are down to only two strands operating. We could go down to zero at any moment if a squirrel got to the right location.”

Kinder said if the district were to lose the remaining two strands of fiber optics, the district would lose access to the Internet and various equipment linked to the network including telephones, the door lock system and safety cameras wouldn’t work.

Technology Director Tom Schreiner said the damaged line runs from the Jackson High School’s agriculture and industrial technology building to the district’s support services building near Orchard Drive Elementary School.

“It’s a very critical link for us that basically runs the entire side of town that includes the junior high, West Lane, Orchard and support services,” Schreiner said. “That’s the part that runs aerial overhead.”

Schreiner said the aerial lines were installed in 2000 and the remaining strands will continue to be used as a backup once the underground replacement lines are installed.

Schreiner added that Eastern Missouri Industries will need to work with the City of Jackson to receive easements to complete the project.

In other action

• The board approved the use of a new student database system, Computer Information Concepts’ Infinite Campus software, to be fully implemented by the 2024-2025 school year.

The district currently uses Tyler Technologies’ SIS K-12 system, but that student database system will no longer be supported after this school year. Associate Superintendent Janelle Pope said the district has been using the Tyler SIS K-12 system for at least 20 years.

Infinite Campus will cost the district $101,163 for the first year implementation and is estimated to cost the district $96,113 annually moving forward. Infinite Campus will be more expensive than the Tyler SIS K-12 system, which cost the district $61,137 annually.

“It is more expensive,” Pope said. “The good thing with that is that it does a little bit more for us – there’s actually additional things that Infinite Campus can do that Tyler SIS doesn’t currently do, so we get a little bit more out of it.”

Pope said the district looked into several database companies and only Infinite Campus offered a comparable level of services as the Tyler SIS system. She added that the system has received good reviews from area districts that already use Infinite Campus, including Cape Girardeau Public Schools.

“We need a system that’s kind of all encompassing, that will allow us to do food service and have a place for our nurses to log medical history,” Pope said. “Infinite campus was really the one that did everything that we needed it to do.”

Pope added that Infinite Campus is taking over Tyler SIS’s data, so the district will receive a discount that will cover the majority of the data transfer costs.

Smith said the student database system is critical for the district, because it is used to upload data to the state and could negatively affect state reimbursements if the system isn’t reliable.

Pope said the data conversion will be completed by the end of the school year and training will be held this spring and summer.

“We intend to fully use Infinite Campus for summer school and then fully switch over during next school year,” she said.

• The board approved an early retirement and resignation notification process for staff members for the current school year. The district first implemented the program last year to allow staff members to receive higher payments for retained sick and personal days if they provide a formal notification of their upcoming retirement or resignation around winter break.

“It allowed us an opportunity to look at our positions, determine what needed to be filled and go out and start our hiring process early,” Smith said. “We saw good benefits from it because we were actually able to take some really high-quality staff early on.”

Smith proposed a two-step process this year, with those submitting their formal notification by Dec. 11 to receive $110 for each retained sick or personal day and those submitting their formal notification by Jan. 8 to receive $90 for each retained sick or personal day.

The $110 payment is equal to what the district would pay a substitute teacher for a day. Smith said the program has helped encourage teachers to not take as much leave time before they leave the district.

Without the early notification process, staff members can only obtain up to $30 per retained sick or personal day at the time of their resignation or retirement. Staff members who resign before being with the district 10 years receive no payment for retained sick or personal days, unless through this early notification process.

Board member Christine Warren suggested an amendment to the program so that staff members may only take part in this program one time in their career at Jackson. This will dissuade staff members from resigning with the intention of being hired back by the district.

The program passed with the amended change by a unanimous vote by the board.

• The board passed a revision to the district’s goals created during the strategic planning process to include safety as one of the district’s governing priorities. Safety needs were added alongside the existing goal of preparing a long-range facility plan for the district.

“We want to make it very clear to the public that one of our top priorities is facilities and safety,” Smith said. “We thought this would be a good place for it, because as we talk about safety, a lot of it deals with our facilities and our planning structure.”

• The board recognized members of last year’s middle level Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) members, which was made up of sixth, seventh and eighth grade students.

Last year was the first year for the club at the middle school and junior high, and several members competed at the national level in Atlanta over the summer. The club had 16 students compete at the national level and three students placed in the top 10 of their category. The club also had 20 members place in the top five of their category during their state-level competition.

The Middle Level FBLA program is growing this school year. The club had 43 members during its first year and already has 99 members signed up to be a part of the club this school year.

• The district’s technology department, led by Tom Schreiner, was recognized by the board for their work over the summer getting ready for the school year and their work throughout the school year to make sure technology is working throughout the district.

Assistant Superintendent Keenan Kinder said the district has been able to save money due to the technology department installing tech equipment themselves – including projectors, cameras and badge access in the district.

“They’re crawling through the rafters, they’re pulling the wires, they’re doing the labor and they’re also doing the software side to make it work,” Kinder said.

Jason Bruns, who runs the district’s Chromebook help centers called the Digital Underground, added that the district has been able to save about $47,000 by reusing scrap parts from broken Chromebooks to fix other Chromebooks.

Bruns said the help centers at the middle school, junior high and high school are run by a combination of district staff member and high school student workers. “I think we’re the only district in the southeast region that does our own self-servicing,” Bruns said. “Everybody else out-sources their fixing.”

• The board adopted its special education compliance plan for the current school year. The board chose to adopt the model plan provided by the state instead of adapting the state’s plan or writing its own compliance plan.

“The district historically has adopted the state model because it has all the legal requirements that we are expected to uphold,” Associate Superintendent Jessica Maxwell said.

• The board approved changes to its policy regarding board member qualifications due to a change in Missouri law. School board candidates are now required to be a resident of the district for a minimum of one year immediately preceding their election or appointment.

Previously, candidates were only required to be residents of the district at the time of the election and have resided in Missouri for a minimum of one year.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past five years. He can be reached at

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