KINDERHOOK–The Ichabod Crane Board of Education has approved the first phase of a $1.3-million Smart Schools Investment Plan. The money is the school district’s part of the statewide Smart Schools Bond Act, a $2-billion state program “to finance improvements in educational technology, infrastructure and security.” But the district will have to spend available funds on the program and wait to be reimbursed by the state once the local plan is approved by the state Education Department.
“The plan does not call for spending all that money at one time,” said Superintendent George Zini at the Tuesday, March 1 board meeting. The board approved moving forward with Phase I for $824,236, which includes upgrading wireless access points, laptops and iPads for use in the lower grades, upgrades to the computer science labs and about $250,000 for infrastructure for security cameras in district buildings.
According the Smart Schools plan approved by the board, “Phase I calls for the installation of the infrastructure to allow for full coverage of all interior and exterior areas our buildings. Approximately 25% of the number of cameras needed for full coverage will be purchased in Phase I.” The board still has $484,898 to spend in the next phase of the plan.
The board held a public hearing on the Smart Schools plan before approving it. A few residents asked about the security cameras. Facilities Director Steven Marotta said that 56 cameras are needed to cover the spaces at the high school, but cameras will not be installed in classrooms. Mr. Zini said that camera recordings would not have to be constantly monitored but could be.
One resident hoped that spending this money on technology would not mean a reduction in staff. Mr. Zini emphasized that this funding is different from the general budget.
Later in the meeting, when the superintendent did discuss the proposed 2016-17 school budget, however, he said that staff cuts are expected in the primary school due to class size. This year’s 3rd grade is the largest in the primary school, with about 150 students. When they move up to elementary school next year, one position can be eliminated in the lower grades. He also said that the district could cut two teaching assistants based upon the classroom size and need in special education.
The proposed cuts in staff would not be due to a budget shortfall the district is looking at for next year, Mr. Zini said. Reviewing expenditures and revenues for the coming year, he said the district could be short $348,000. If the state released some of the district’s Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) funds, the district could cover the gap. The GEA funds represent a portion of state aid to school districts that was supposed to be withheld from schools once, in 2008, to make up for a state budget gap, but was never fully restored in succeeding years.
Mr. Zini said about $600,000 in GEA would come back to the district and that he had heard positive talk from the state about restoring the funds to districts in the upcoming state budget.
Right now though, he advised the board that budget figures are preliminary. “The budget is still a moving target,” he said. The board will vote on the proposed budget in April with the annual school budget vote set for May 17.
Also at the meeting:
•The board discussed the issue with the large 3rd grade. At the elementary school the plan for next year is to have one class of 36 students with two fulltime teachers. Board members Michael Stead and Regina Rose both expressed concern with that class size. “That’s a lot of bodies together,” said Ms. Rose.
“The problem is we have no space,” said elementary school Principal Tim Farley. He said the school building does have one large classroom for the students and they will have two teachers.
“I think with the people we have it’s going to work,” said Mr. Zini
•The board approved adding March 24, March 28, April 22, May 13 and May 27 as days off due to the lack of snow days this year. The district will be closed on those days unless there is a snow day before May 24
•Petitions for those seeking to run for the board will be available March 31 and must be returned by April 18. There will be three seats open on the board.
The next school board meeting is April 5 at 7 p.m. in the High School Library.
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .