Leigh Monson reviews  Black Panther

School board plans to give itself a raise

   Despite a multi-million-dollar spending deficit, the District 196 school board is planning to give itself a pay raise of more than 40 percent, the board announced at a meeting this week.
   The elected board is expected to vote on the pay raise at its next meeting, scheduled for March 12. The board is expected to raise members’ pay from $6,400 annually to $9,000. Pay for the board’s chair would increase to $9,900.
   The board meets about once a month, for about 15 meetings per year. Members are sometimes absent from meetings throughout the year. Meetings typically last an hour or less and consist mostly of the board reviewing presentations prepared by school district staff and congratulating students who win awards. There is little discussion, debate, or questioning of statements made during the meetings.
   Board members, who later in the meeting complained about the high cost of providing special education to disabled students, laughed and joked during a discussion of the pay raise at its recent meeting. There was not public comment regarding the proposed pay raises.
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School technology brings dissatisfaction and security concerns

   Nearly a quarter of District 196 parents are dissatisfied with changes in their children’s education resulting from increased technology in the schools, according to a survey by the school district.
   The survey results, included in a presentation regarding the district’s technology program, showed less than half the parents surveyed were very satisfied with the new technology.
   District 196 implemented a massive, and expensive, technology expansion in the district’s schools following the 2015 approval of a $130 million bond referendum, imposing years’ worth of debt on school district taxpayers. The bond referendum was approved with about 8,000 votes, a fraction of the voters in the district.
   The new technology, which was included in a lengthy referendum question centered on improving school security, included a new phone system that crashed on the first day of school last year and the distribution of tablet computers to teachers and all students in grades four through twelve.
   As a result of the massive IT project, personal information about students and their families, health records, schoolwork, test results, grades and even their lunch choices will be available through mobile devices distributed to teachers and staff. School IT systems are an attractive target to identity thieves because they contain children’s names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and other information that can be used to commit fraud that is unlikely to be discovered for years.
   The district did not respond to requests for information regarding the security of the new technology or policies related to the loss or misuse of staff mobile devices.
   Although district officials have refused to respond regarding the issue, misuse of the system has already occurred, according to court records. The Apple Valley police department has been investigating an apparent breach by a Lakeville middle school principal suspected of tapping into files at the District 196 middle school where his wife worked.
   Apple Valley police launched an investigation into the unauthorized use of a District 196 computer in January 2018. The investigation was triggered by a Scott Highlands Middle School employee’s report that her district-issued iPad and phone had been tampered with and personal files had been moved to shared drives. Both devices were connected to the school district’s server. According to a published report, the district’s computer network may have been accessed remotely for as long as 18 months before discovery of the intrusion.
   Police have named as a suspect in the investigation Lakeville middle school principal Christopher Endicott, 50, of 13745 Fawn Ridge Court, Apple Valley. Endicott’s wife Andrea works in various capacities as a counselor and staff member at Scott Highlands Middle School. She has reportedly been placed on paid administrative leave, but District 196 has declined comment.
   There was no discussion of the investigation and breaches to computer security during the school board meeting and school board members asked no questions about it. Instead, the board watched passively as the district’s staff showed the board a video commercial about technology in the schools. The video showed students, rather than interacting with teachers, staring at tablet screens in the classroom.
   The presentation also described the changing role of teachers in response to the new technology. Teachers will spend more time figuring out how to use technology and less time in the classroom. Instead of asking questions directly to humans, students will post questions online. Instead of reading books and writing in the classroom, they will view and swipe at screens. School Superintendent Jane Berenz noted after the presentation that some students prefer to use paper and pencil.
   The presentation made no mention of what has surprised some parents about the school-issued technology: the requirement for paid subscriptions. In one elementary school, for example, students can read books through an online application. The classroom password, however, doesn’t work after 4 p.m. So, if parents want to check in after school hours to see what their children have been reading or if the kids want to finish reading an e-book at home, parents need to create an account, storing a credit card to be charged $8 per month.
   District 196 declined a request to discuss the subscription fee issue. 

Babysitter charged with causing toddler's brain damage

Mei Lam
   A Cliff Road babysitter has been charged with felony assault for seriously injuring a 9-month-old left in her care.
   Mei Lam, 34, of 2100 Cliff Road E. #214A, Burnsville, was charged with first-degree assault after a child left in her care for about a week suffered brain damage and other injuries, according to a criminal complaint.
   Police and EMTs were called to help the unconscious child on Feb. 5, according to court records. The child was taken to a local hospital by ambulance and then rushed to the University of Minnesota’s Children’s Hospital because of the severity of his injuries.
   The child required emergency brain surgery, according to court records, and is not expected to fully recover from brain and spine damage. Doctors told investigators the child’s injuries were caused by abuse, according to court records. Investigators allege Lam admitted to throwing the child on the bed.
   The child’s mother left the child with Lam on Jan. 29, according to police. Two days after the child was hospitalized, police allege they stopped Lam and her husband in a car with a suitcase and Lam’s passport. Lam was being held in the Dakota County jail after her arrest.