At a meeting of the Newfield Central School District Board of Education Dec. 19, preliminary approval for the expenditure of Smart Schools monies was approved by the board.
Joseph Reilly, consultant for the school district regarding the Smart Schools Bond Act (SSBA), and Cathy Griggs, Newfield Central School District technology director, told the board of education that they met recently and have starting thinking about their proposal for the expenditure of the second half of the district’s Smart Schools Investment Plan (SSIP).
The Smart Bond Initiative was passed by New York voters in November of 2014. Schools were awarded part of the $2 billion in funding, divided between all schools, based on enrollment and state aid formula.
Newfield’s total allocation is $933,590.
The SSBA requires that the money be spent in a way that is in line with the district’s 3-year technology plan. The plan includes a focus on increasing the number of mobile devices within schools so that the ratio of devices approaches the district’s goal of one device per student in classrooms, according to Griggs’ December departmental report.
The 3-year plan also includes the development of a replacement plan for technology-based tools; lastly, it calls for the district to address its problem with the growing number of failing classroom presentation devices.
“The district’s technology committee met and agreed that we need to work on these baseline needs to continue to provide great opportunities for learning,” Griggs’ report states. Priorities for the grant were also defined in the district’s initial Smart Schools application, according to Griggs’ and Reilly’s presentation to the board.
“We wanted to have a replacement plan going forward,” Griggs told the board during the meeting. “So, for example, we have some iPads on their last legs; with the next update, they’re done. We can’t update them any further. We really need to have a replacement plan for all of our devices.”
The state mandates that use of the funds must fall under one of these six categories: classroom connectivity, classroom technology, community communication, pre-k classroom improvements, elimination of temporary/trailer classrooms, and school security and safety.
It cannot be used to pay for salaries, software or professional development.
“They’re very specific about what you can spend the money on,” said Reilly.
The first half of the funding was approved for network infrastructure and wifi capacity in the summer of 2017.
The Smart Schools expenditure for that project was reduced to $545,076 by supplementing it with federal E-Rate funds (a schools and libraries universal service support program the helps schools and libraries obtain affordable broadband).
The plan is to use the remaining funds, totaling $388,514, to create a sustainable environment of iPads and Windows-based laptops.
The state mandated SSIP Committee has already met and endorsed the district’s proposal. A public hearing must be held before final approval can be given by the board of education.
Following the discussion, the Newfield board of education unanimously passed a motion made by Meng-Wei Hsu to approve the preliminary Smart Schools Investment Plan as described in the district’s Smart Schools plan.
Prior to the vote, several school board members expressed confusion and some concern that they had not seen a more detailed spending plan before the meeting. They asked how members of the public would educate themselves prior to the public hearing, to which Griggs responded that the board could inform the pubic with information in the district’s 3-year plan, as it is unlikely to change drastically. (That plan can be found on the school district’s website at newfieldschools.org/districtpage.cfm?pageid=1399.)
Ultimately, the board was persuaded by Griggs and Reilly that it was prudent to give preliminary approval sooner rather than later so that the process could begin moving forward, as it generally takes a long time (10 to 12 months) for the plan to make its way through the state education department, Reilly said.
Now that the board has given preliminary approval, a public hearing will be held in conjunction with an upcoming school board meeting. It has to be held after 30 days to allow time for the public and the board members to review the plan before the board of education gives its final approval. Griggs and Reilly suggested the hearing be held at the January 23 meeting.
Upon final board approval, the plan will be submitted to the New York State Education Department.