Online program vote scheduled

By Bryan Richardson

The USD 383 school board is ready to vote on whether the district starts its own online education program.

Following the board’s winter retreat on Wednesday, a vote was scheduled for the March 5 meeting to decide the fate of a proposed Manhattan Virtual Program (MVP).

This program would replace iQ Academy Kansas, which ends when the district’s contract with K12 Inc., the academy’s provider, expires June 30.

MVP would start next school year for grades 7-12, with a similar model to the academy, allowing students statewide to enroll.

There would be a three-year build up to increase focus on career engagement, combine online and face-to-face instruction, and allow certification, degree and early college credit opportunities.

The MVP budget proposal is built on getting 200 full-time equivalent (FTE) students in the program to qualify for $805,800 in state revenue.

The district paid $1,047,960 for iQ Academy Kansas in the 2012-13 school year with $988,987 going directly to K12 Inc.

Officials estimated a cost of $707,500 for MVP’s first year, for things such as administration, eight teachers and setting a curriculum.

Board member Marcia Rozell said there’s a risk associated with starting a new program, even with the district’s previous experience.

“We’re talking about a totally different program because we’re not going through iQ Academy,” she said. “We’re going through our staff and our faculty.”

As the provider, K12 Inc. owned the name and provided the curriculum and teachers. Academy director Brooke Blanck said she’s not sure if the district could hire iQ Academy teachers.

“As a new program, it would be great to just keep the staff,” she said. “All we would be doing is just like changing a textbook.”

Board member Aaron Estabrook said he also saw the risk but felt comfortable with it.

“It seems like there’s a risk, but where you’re trending, it doesn’t seem like a huge risk,” he said.

The district hasn’t dipped below 200 FTE for iQ Academy since 2007-08. In 2012-13, the academy had 259.4 FTE.

“In our world, we have to be very competitive,” Blanck said. “We have to be very good at what we do.”

It’s a competition that has an increasing amount of participants.

There are 93 active virtual programs in the state, with 47 of them accepting out of district students.

However, 47 of those programs started in 2012 or 2013.

“My jaw just drops at how many came online in 2012 and 2013,” board member Dave Colburn said.

One hook that USD 383’s program has provided —and would continue to provide under MVP — is allowing part-time students.

“There aren’t a lot of virtual schools in the state that do part-time because it’s very challenging to keep track of,” Blanck said.

If the board approves starting MVP, it would start in August.

Officials would have to contact families and schools, establish policies, designate office space, make hires, conduct training and purchase curriculum.

Blanck said it’s a very tight deadline.

“It is scary, but I believe in it,” she said. “It’s going to be a fantastic venture.”

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