The Omaha Public Schools could boost their Internet capacity and speed next year with a new fiber-optic network serving 97 buildings.
The school board approved a five-year, $4.5 million bid submitted by Unite Private Networks to install a fiber-optic WAN (Wide Area Network) for all schools and administrative buildings.
Superintendent Mark Evans said last week that the district needs to upgrade its Internet speed and the cable network at many schools.
Several high schools already have fiber-optic cables, but the upgrade would significantly increase bandwidth and speed. The improved network would speed the transmission of information such as standardized test data. It is expected to cost less than the current system.
Twelve fibers would be installed at each building, with two used initially. The 10 remaining fibers would be tapped on an as-needed basis, at an additional cost.
The Unite contract would cost the district $74,981 per month for five years, half the cost of a second bid that came in at $155,000 per month. Once a final contract is approved by the administration, work would begin July 1 and continue through 2019.
Much of the cost of the new network is expected to be picked up by the federal government, whose universal service Schools and Libraries Program, commonly known as E-Rate, provides discounts of up to 90 percent to obtain affordable telecommunications and Internet access.
Funding is based on student poverty rates. Because OPS has a large number of students eligible for free and reduced lunch, more than half the district's cost is likely to covered by E-Rate.
In other business, officials from OPS and the Douglas County Health Department said they are re-examining the availability of mental health support programs after responses on a recent teen survey reported attempted suicides at nearly twice the state and national rate.
Dr. Adi Pour, Douglas County health director, presented the results of the 2012 Douglas County Youth Risk Behavior Survey, including what she called troubling statistics on teen mental health.
More than 1,000 high school students responded to the survey, the first conducted in several years, Pour said. Respondents were anonymous and not broken down by hometown or school district.
Of 1,087 survey participants, 12.4 percent said they attempted suicide last year, Pour said. Six percent of those attempts were severe enough to require medical attention — 2.5 times higher than the national and statewide average on the same Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey.
The Douglas County Youth Health Advisory Board, a committee made up of high school students, is interested in developing a strategic plan to address mental health issues at the middle school and high school level, Pour said.
Evans said several survey responses were encouraging — including lower rates of alcohol consumption and sexual activity compared to national results — but he said OPS was studying the mental health concerns.
“The suicide piece kind of hit home in our district this year,” he said. “We recognize that concern, and the survey made it an even bigger issue to us. We've started some conversation on that whole issue since we've suffered some tragedy in OPS, right here this year.”
Board President Justin Wayne applauded the previous board for allowing students to answer the longer version of the federal health survey. OPS opted out of the survey in the mid-1990s after parents complained about questions pertaining to teen sexual behavior.
“A couple of years ago, the board took the position that we need this data to better serve our students and that was a huge step and a courageous step for this district,” Wayne said.