At a school board meeting Wednesday, the St. Mary’s public schools’ information technology department presented recent upgrades to the school system’s cybersecurity system, as well as other technology refreshes planned through 2022.

“Over the past four years, the IT department has made some major improvements,” David Howard, the director of IT, said. The department has installed 5,043 new computers and upgraded the school system’s bandwidth from 400 megabits per second to 4 gigabits per second since the 2015-2016 school year.

“We have engineers that come from outside that come and see our network, who are floored when they see where we’re at,” Howard said.

In the next three years, Howard noted that the school system could benefit from further investment in cybersecurity technology and staff.

“If you look at reports across the United States, it’s often seen that educational systems are viewed as soft targets,” William Buckmaster, who is responsible for server administration at SMCPS, said. “Attackers go after them generally because they’re not hardened to the degree that a government facility would be.”

Although the school system has not suffered from any cyberattacks recently, Buckmaster said that IT would benefit from a “security administrator, somebody who looks at the system from a top-down view.”

“SMCPS was hit with two different versions of ransomware several years ago,” Buckmaster said. “Fortunately, we have not had a single incident since then, and a lot of that is because of the work that we’ve done.”

A third-party penetration test conducted last year, which simulated a cyberattack on the school system’s network, found that the network had no major vulnerabilities. Buckmaster said that such tests will become annual to further ensure network security.

“I’m grateful that we didn’t learn the hard way as other school systems in the state did,” board member Cathy Allen said, “I appreciate that you’re monitoring and determining where there are issues, and addressing those issues.”

Board members commended the IT department for the progress it has made since 2015, the beginning of the department’s current plan. “You have come leaps and bounds to where you are now,” board member Rita Weaver said.

“Every single year, when there is money found [within the budget], you are investing it in things, people may never see the incredible work that goes on, and the pride you all take in doing it. You are exceptional stewards with your money as well,” Superintendent Scott Smith said.

Also discussed during Thursday’s meeting was a hike in tuition for out-of-county and out-of-state students. Tuition for Maryland students who live outside of the county will rise from $6,130 to $6,423 for regular education programs and from $18,389 to $19,270 for students enrolled in special education programs, an increase of about 4.7%. For out-of-state students, tuition will rise to $12,872 for regular education and $38,616 for special education, up from $12,329 and $36,988.

The tuition rate is adjusted annually, based on a formula set by the board of education.

Nonresident student tuition “is for families who have really unique circumstances,” Cheryl Long, the director of student services at SMCPS said at Wednesday’s meeting. “We have two families this year that are coming to us under these tuition circumstances.”