Saugerties school district to use $2 million in state money to update technology systems

The Saugerties school board last week reviewed a two-part plan to improve technology throughout the district using a $1.97 million Smart Schools bond. The plan’s first part will be placed on the district website for public comment.

In his 2014 State of the State address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for an investment of $2 billion to set up public schools with the tech to help students compete in a rapidly changing world. The Smart Schools Bond Act (SSBA) was approved in November 2014, with districts given a clear understanding about what the funding could be spent on.

During Oct. 12’s school board meeting at Cahill Elementary School, trustees heard from school officials about plans to divide the funding roughly in half to fund two distinct projects.

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The first, which would address infrastructure, wireless capabilities and safety and security in Cahill and Grant D. Morse elementary schools and the Junior/Senior High School campus would cost $1,018,421. Some wiring has already been installed in those schools as part of a separate facilities project.

The second part, which would use the remaining $947,946 of the bond, would focus similar efforts on both the Mount Marion and Riccardi elementary schools, but would also include asbestos abatement on those buildings’ plumbing — crucial to completing the project.

While the bond act allows for considerable flexibility in what district choose to spend the money on, Deputy Superintendent Lawrence Mautone said the district’s needs were fairly straightforward.

“We need a phone system and a security system because ours is failing,” Mautone said. “We want to move forward with our infrastructure and wireless to allow for more opportunities for our students. It’s not required that districts go wireless, but where education is going and where learning is going we think it’s great to be able to give our children the ability to do that so that we can learn in any space, flexibility in study halls and libraries.”

According to Mautone, the district has had issues with its telephone system in the past.

“Sometimes the phones have gone down in the schools and we’ve had to reboot the phone systems,” he said. “We don’t want to do patchwork. We want to have a strong system up and running, because that’s a huge communications system for the schools and families.”

School officials are technically only presenting the first part of the overall plan now, as asbestos abatement at Mr. Marion and Riccardi couldn’t begin until after students break for summer next June.

Of the funding earmarked for Cahill, Morse and the Junior/Senior High School campus, $605,709 would be used for high-tech safety and security upgrades, including security cameras, entry control systems and voice-over Internet protocol (VoIP). The remaining $412,711 would go toward infrastructure, including switches to support wireless, VoIP and camera networks; wireless access points and controllers; environmental and climate controls for equipment; and battery backup systems, servers and management tools.

But while the SCSD has a specific allotment, the SSBA still requires the district to submit plans to a review board before releasing any funds. According to Mautone, that process doesn’t resolve itself overnight. If approved by trustees at a meeting of the Board of Education scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 8 at Riccardi Elementary, the first proposal would be submitted to the state through the same business portal the district also sent its APPR and technology plans.

“There’s a couple of months’ turnaround reviewing these plans to make sure they’re aligned with our technology plan,” said Mautone. “We can’t spend any money until it is approved. Well, technically we could, but we wouldn’t get reimbursed. So we have to wait.”

Mautone said he hoped the district would hear back by late January or early February 2017. “I’ve been told by some districts that the state may tell us to make changes, which is the same thing they did with the APPR plan, and the technology plan as well,” he said.

Once the SSBA review board approves the plan, the district can begin moving forward.

“I’m hoping we can start the work on these three buildings in the spring in terms of access points for the wireless, putting cameras in for security,” Mautone said. “And then we’d have to see with the phone system when is the right time to make that switch, and how complicated it’s going to be for staff to do.”

While the current phone system is flawed, Mautone said it should hold up while the district transitions to a new system.

“The beauty of the way we’re doing the phone system is that we can maintain both systems simultaneously,” he said,. “If we switch out, let’s say, my office phone, I can still connect with any other phone in the district. So we might be able to start it off with some of the offices to get people used to the new system so we can train other people as we go. Both systems can run at the same time.

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