Mehlville School District to roll out refurbished website next year

Weber questions expenditure in light of potential reductions.

By EVAN YOUNG

Seeking to boost its “front-door appeal,” the Mehlville School District plans to roll out a refurbished website next year.

The Board of Education recently approved a contract with SchoolFusion for website redesign and web hosting services.

Board members voted 4-1 to approve the agreement. Erin Weber was opposed, and Micheal Ocello was absent from the regular meeting earlier this month.

A 15-member committee consisting of district officials, staff and parents recommended SchoolFusion, which submitted the lowest of six bids received through a request for proposals.

The company will charge an annual fee of $21,600 to host the web site, but the district expects to save $7,344 — roughly 34 percent — of that cost every year through the federal government’s E-Rate discount program, according to information given to the board from Director of Communications Emily McFarland.

Therefore, Mehlville actually will spend $14,256 a year on its website, an increase of $6,565 from the $7,691 a year it currently spends. The current annual cost of $7,691 includes $2,628 for the site itself and roughly $5,000 for separate features such as the district’s e-newsletter and online survey tools. SchoolFusion can provide those services and others as part of the agreement, McFarland said.

In a presentation to the board, the committee listed several benefits of using SchoolFusion: a “smarter, professional looking website”; web pages for every teacher and student organization; a “strong and robust” calendar with events viewable by school; individual accounts for students and parents; the ability to translate text into many of the 51 language spoken in the district — including Bosnian; and the ability to upload photos and videos.

“By providing a user-friendly, interactive and timely website, we are improving our front-door appeal,” the committee’s report stated. “When our website becomes a go-to source for information for parents, staff, community, realtors (and) businesses, the entire district will succeed.”

The new website could become a “permanent fixture” for the district, Superintendent Terry Noble told the board Dec. 9.

“I think it would really enhance our ability to communicate internally and externally and would be a great tool for learning. Quite frankly it’s something that’s more or less a basic requirement in most districts nowadays that we just haven’t been able to put in place,” Noble said.

“There’s a cost there,” he added, “but it really is an investment, and I think overall in our budget we’ll be able to work that net cost of $6,500 in without seeing our budget go up.”

But Weber said she wasn’t “convinced that we need to spend this money on this,” especially since the board is mulling a contingency plan that contains program and personnel cuts.

Board Secretary Larry Felton said he also questioned the expenditure initially, but added, “I think for the community, if they want to come in and look at Mehlville, it will be a lot easier for them just from the general web presence. Just from my work with websites, this (currently) is a very text-oriented, very laborious website to try and find something.”

For “just a little bit more” money, the district can provide an effective channel for communication between parents and teachers, board member Drew Frauenhoffer said.

“To me, communicating with the community is great, but as a parent, that’s what I really think sells it … Hopefully it will enable teachers to communicate better with parents, which then will ultimately enhance academic achievement, which is what it’s all about …,” he said.

“But is it something that we can live without?” Weber said.

“We can live without a lot of things,” Frauenhoffer said. “But again, for the cost-benefit ratio I really don’t think you’re going to get a bigger bang for your buck for something like that.”

Board Vice President Venki Palamand contended the district’s website is one of the first things people visit if they’re considering moving to Mehlville.

“I think you’d look at the website and form your opinion of the school district — without ever being here and knowing much about it — from the first impression,” he said. “So I think it’s so important to have that professional look that we just don’t have now … Sure, it’s a cost today, but over the long-term I think it’s worth the cost.”