At a special meeting of the Lockhart ISD Board of Trustees Monday evening, the Board voted 7-0 to approve budget amendments that enable LISD to obtain seven network towers to provide wireless internet to all LISD students and staff throughout Caldwell County.
The action is in direct response to the lack of internet coverage for many students at a time in which distance learning is necessary due to the impact of COVID-19. In a recent survey of parents regarding internet access, results revealed 60 percent of students have internet access, leaving the other students unable to participate in online learning, even as the school district has passed out Chromebooks to students in need.
LISD will partner with Particle Communications for access to three existing towers in Dale, Luling, and Seawillow, which will begin to provide internet service within an eight-mile radius to LISD students and staff by the end of this month. In addition, the district will build four new towers at Strawn Elementary School, Fentress, Maxwell, and Uhland. In total, seven towers will provide internet coverage countywide by the end of this July.
The total cost for the seven tower setup fee, installation of routers in up to 500 homes, and internet service for the first year is $447,500. The annual cost of internet service in subsequent years would total $60,000 per year. For any homes beyond the initial 500, the cost to the district would be an additional $22,250 for each additional 50 homes the first year. The annual cost of the internet for subsequent years would be $6,000 for those additional 50 homes.
“As our leadership began planning for distance learning in response to COVID-19, we learned how many of our families either have unreliable internet or no internet service at all,” said Superintendent Mark Estrada. Parts of Caldwell County are “dead zones,” with no service available by any provider. “Because of the urgency, our leadership team took swift action to review options and identify a solution to bring to the Board for approval. I am grateful to our Board for fully supporting the budget amendments that enable us to more immediately address this issue as quickly as possible. Moving forward, however, it also enables us to fulfill the long-held district vision for the future of providing every student a device, becoming a 1:1 school district, and growing our LISD Visionary Instructional Plan (LISDVIP) initiative.”
Lockhart ISD launched new instruction Monday through Lockhart Distance Learning. For those unable to access the internet, the district prepared paper packets to cover the topics their peers are learning online. The district will continue to provide this option as long as necessary, but the Board’s actions this evening ensures this will not be needed once the towers are built and fully operational.
“This is certainly a game-changer for our students,” said Superintendent Estrada. “The fact is, however, that some of our own staff live in parts of the county where providers are not currently providing service. This will help our staff as well, who continue to provide instruction during the school closure.”
The internet service will be managed to ensure service for instructional programming only, restricting access to non-educational websites. The first phase of students to benefit will begin access in April with the entire county covered by the end of July.