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Smart Schools Bond Act

Shoreham-Wading River’s superintendent, Gerard Poole, speaks during an April 18 board of education meeting. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Shoreham-Wading River school district is looking to get smart, with the help of New York State funds.

The district is finalizing plans to use the state’s Smart School Bond Act, which makes up to $2 million available for every school district in the state to improve its technology and security infrastructure. The district has been allocated $1,003,429 to make improvements to district computer server infrastructure; purchase new computers, projectors, security cameras; and to install a new security booth at the entrance of the high school parking lot.

The district laid out its plans at an Oct. 23 board meeting, where Peter Esposito, the director of technical services, said the district plans to replace several pieces of data storage equipment to maximize storage capability in switch closets for $430,000. The district also plans to replace all district computers, 450 in all, last upgraded in 2013, with more modern machines for $425,000. The district will replace its 120, 10-year-old classroom projectors with new LCD projectors for $65,000 and add additional security cameras for $18,000.

“It’s been on my desk for the last three years, so it would be good to move forward with this,” Esposito said.

A prefabricated visitors booth for the high school parking lot will be installed for $65,000. While Superintendent Gerard Poole said the district is still working out the final plans for the booth, it could possibly be located along the high school driveway where the road forks to the administration entrance and to the main parking lot. The booth could include a guard-operated gate so school officials can monitor who is entering the high school grounds, even if they are going to use the trails to the south of the school or the North Shore Public Library.

“The way we envision it is it will help somebody get to the high school, get to the library or make the left to come up to administrative offices,” Poole said.

The final version of the plan will be submitted to New York State by the end of November, but Poole said the committee that reviews the plan has been taking about one year on average to approve those documents. He said he expects the visitors booth to be installed sometime after the district revitalizes the high school parking lot over the summer as part of a 2015 capital bond referendum, but that those plans will be changed to allow for the new booth.

At prior board meetings residents have expressed frustration about new speed bumps installed on the driveway to the high school, saying they’re so hard and short that it forces most cars to slowly roll over them. Residents have said the slowdown has increased traffic going into the school, especially in early mornings, but the superintendent said the speed bumps are working as intended to slow down traffic to 15 mph or less. He added the school has had no problem getting all students in class by first period, though officials will be reviewing the safety protocols for the guard booth as the district develops plans for the new parking lot, with that stage of the bond project going out to bid in January.

At the October meeting, board President Michael Lewis asked if the computers the school would be buying would have to be replaced in another eight years. Alan Meinster, the assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment, said there was no way to tell where technology would go in that amount of time.

“I can promise you if you do this in another eight years you will have the same budget,” Meinster said. “I don’t know where we’re going to be in the next eight years technology wise — what we’re going to be using later on.”

Glen Arcuri, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said the school could pay for future technology through capital reserve funds.

The investment plan is available to view on the district’s website, and district officials are currently asking for feedback on the proposal. The board will vote on the finalized version of the plan at its Nov. 27 board meeting.

A free prekindergarten class will replace SCOPE preschool at Nassakeag Elementary School. File photo

By Andrea Paldy

In the not-so-distant past, budget season meant looking for places to trim. Now, as the Three Village school district looks ahead to the 2017-18 school year, it actually is making plans to add new programs.

Though the current projected increase in state aid, according to the governor’s proposal, is very small — $247,000 — Three Village will not need to cut programs to stay within the 3.40 percent cap on the tax levy increase, Jeffrey Carlson, the assistant superintendent of business services, said.

2017-18 Budget Facts

  • 3.40 percent tax levy increase cap
  • $247,000 in additional state aid
  • Additions include junior high math centers, drug alcohol counselor, free pre-k
  • 7th through 9th graders will receive notebook computers to use at home and at school

Junior high math centers and a certified drug and alcohol counselor are among the additions for the new school year, along with a free district-run prekindergarten that will replace the current SCOPE preschool at Nassakeag Elementary School.

However, not everyone is on board with the preschool. Three Village resident and parent Christine Segnini said during last week’s school board meeting that she was perplexed by the district’s decision to use “taxpayer money to support a non-mandated grade like pre-K.”

“We are not a district of low socio-economic status,” Segnini said. “We are not a district having our incoming kindergarteners ill-prepared and lacking in preschool experience. I fear that this high-ticket, non-state mandated item will indeed sink your budget.”

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said that though preschool is not currently mandated, she could see both kindergarten and prekindergarten being mandated in the future. She also added that there are students in the district who enter kindergarten without preschool.

“We are hopeful that we will be able to catch those children and bring them in so that they will have a level playing field and opportunity to get the early intervention that is critical for them to be successful,” Pedisich said.

While the administration has budgeted for five preschool teachers — three would be reassigned from the elementary level due to declining enrollment and two would be hired — the district would only need all five teachers if the program hits capacity at 200 students. With only 53 students signed up so far, Pedisich does not anticipate the need for a lottery. Each teacher will instruct a morning session and an afternoon session with 20 students per class.

The decision to hire a certified drug and alcohol counselor was made to address an “issue of highest importance,” the superintendent said.

“We are not a district having our incoming kindergarteners ill-prepared and lacking in preschool experience. I fear that this high-ticket, non-state mandated item will indeed sink your budget.”

—Christine Segnini

“I’m not going to be one of the superintendents that says we don’t have a drug problem in Three Village,” she said, noting that drugs are a problem across the country.

The district will be prepared to offer help to students and their families, even providing services in the home, if necessary, Pedisich said.

The only addition to the administrative staff will be a supervisor of technology and information systems, Pedisich said. With the $3.4 million in Smart Schools Bond Act money that has been awarded to Three Village, the district will introduce one-to-one devices in the junior highs. It means that students in grades 7 through 9 will receive their own notebook computers to use at home and at school. The new technology supervisor will oversee the pilot program, which would eventually expand to the high school, Pedisich said.

Including the possible two new preschool teachers, the district could add a total of 3.05 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions at the elementary level for the coming year. Art would decrease by .15 because of declining enrollment, but .1 FTE would be added to both physical education and health. One FTE will be added for special education, based on individualized education program (IEP) enrollment. Fourth grade chorus will be added, but without an increase of staff,  Pedisich said.

The secondary schools will see a net increase of 1.15 full-time equivalent positions to cover a new math center during lunch, daily band and orchestra at the junior highs. New electives such as public speaking and local history will be introduced at the junior highs. The high school math department will introduce differential equations to follow multivariable calculus, which students take after completing AP calculus.

The budget vote will be on May 16, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. For security reasons, all voting will take place at the secondary schools, Carlson said. Since state election law prohibits screening, it is easier to keep voters contained to polling areas at the secondary schools, he said.

Residents who usually vote at W.S. Mount Elementary School will vote at R.C. Murphy Junior High. Those zoned for Arrowhead, Minnesauke and Nassakeag elementary schools will vote at Ward Melville High School. Setauket Elementary School voters will vote at P.J. Gelinas Junior High.

Part of the funds will go toward a new wireless network

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Desirée Keegan

By Kevin Redding

More than two years after New York State voters passed the Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014, Rocky Point school district is moving forward on its preliminary investment plan to fund improvements in educational technology and infrastructure for K-12 students.

At a school board meeting last week, Susan Wilson, executive director for educational services at the district, gave a presentation to the public about how grant money from the state, totaling $2.45 million, will be utilized.

“This is really to provide improved learning and educational opportunities for students in Rocky Point,” Wilson said. “Through the act, every school is getting a different amount of money and the state wants us to develop new and exciting things for school technology.”

If approved by the board of education in a March 20 vote, the district’s preliminary plan will be brought to the state and, from there, funds will kick in for the eventual installation of a high-speed wireless network throughout the school, which would require a full update of the current network.

“It’s a big deal for us because it gives us the ability to expand on our educational programs and allow us to start engaging with online testing.”

— Michael Ring

Of the $2.45 million grant, $525,000 of it will go toward the installation of the networks, while $510,000 will go toward upgrading infrastructure, leaving about $1.4 million left.

Wilson said she and the Technology Committee — the group that’s been working on the preliminary plan for over a year — are considering to use the leftover funds for classroom lab equipment upgrades or tablets or laptops. A technology meeting will be held Jan. 26 in the district office where public input is encouraged.

In fact, the district is offering a 30-day comment period for community members to weigh in on how the extra money should be spent, which started Jan. 9 and will continue through Feb. 9.

“It’s a thorough process that requires a lot of input from various stakeholders,” Wilson said.

Among the major stakeholders are teachers, students, parents, BOE members, higher education and district tech support.

According to Wilson, the turnaround to see the preliminary plan in action is completely dependent on the state and its approvals, but she hopes phase one, the installation of the wireless networks, will happen between September 2017 and September 2018.

The executive director said the initiation of the Smart Schools Bond Act partly served as a jumping-off point toward online testing in the future. New York has indicated that by 2022, all regents and state assessment exams must be taken online.

Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring said he’s excited for the upgrades and what it could do for the district.

“Once we have Wi-Fi we can go from having a handful of active wireless users who are on hot spots to thousands with access,” Ring said. “It’s a big deal for us because it gives us the ability to expand on our educational programs and allow us to start engaging with online testing. It’s a long process, but it’s worth it in the end.”

If you have any questions or comments regarding the preliminary plan, contact Susan Wilson at swilson@rpufsd.org. The technology meeting on Jan. 26 in the district office is open to the public.

Harborfields High School. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Harborfields Central School District is one step closer to technological improvements thanks to its utilization of New York State’s Smart Schools Bond Act.

At a school board meeting last week, Jordan Cox, executive director of institutional services, presented a $1 million investment plan that focuses on improving the district’s Internet connectivity operations by utilizing the bond.

“We’re looking for something that’s going to be long-term,” Cox said. “Something that we can make an investment in that’s going to last 10-plus years.”

The Smart Schools Bond Act, passed in 2014, authorized the issuance of $2 billion in general obligation bonds to finance improved education technology and infrastructure. Over the last two years, Cox said district officials have been meeting to determine what the highest priorities are for bond funds.

Once they narrowed in on Internet connectivity, a plan was created to update the “aging architecture to support high-speed traffic requirements for online productivity and assessment operations,” he said.

The entire plan included two projects — one $921,000 plan focusing on upgrading infrastructure and the other $177,000 plan on centralizing all district servers.

Cox said that Harborfields was using outdated equipment and upgrading it to support high-bandwidth and wireless devices would help the district support more devices at once.

“We’re talking about the bones that you don’t see behind the walls that allow us to keep the connectivity day-to-day within schools,” Cox said of the infrastructure.

The second part of the plan Cox pitched concentrated on centralizing all servers to help reduce the amount of data center equipment required, which he said would cut costs and negate the need of system downtime.

Cox said that fewer servers and less networking gear would mean less equipment would be required, lowering monthly power and cooling costs. Cox also said that the more programs and devices added to the district, the “more critical that our Internet connectivity does not have any down time.”

In his presentation, Cox said Harborfields would receive about $1.3 million from the state through the bond. These two projects should cost about $1 million, leaving $223,656 left over, he said.

Cox also said that the money from this bond does not expire and can be carried into the next school year. So if Harborfields does not use its full amount immediately, it does not lose the surplus.

Going forward, Cox said this plan needed to be approved by the board of education before the district can submit an online application. He also said the turnaround time from the state is unknown because Harborfields is one of the first districts to complete the process.

The school district did not confirm whether the board has approved the plan.