Smart Schools Referendum Approaching

electionThe Referendum:

The Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014 will be included on the November 4, 2014 general election ballot. The ballot measure will read:

The SMART SCHOOLS BOND ACT OF 2014, as set forth in section one of part B of chapter 56 of the laws of 2014, authorizes the sale of state bonds up to two billion dollars ($2,000,000,000) to provide access to classroom technology and high-speed internet connectivity to equalize opportunities for children to learn, to add classroom space and to expand high-quality prekindergarten programs, to replace classroom trailers with permanent instructional space, and to install high-tech smart security features in schools. Shall the SMART SCHOOLS BOND ACT OF 2014
be approved?

School District Allocations

If the referendum is passed, each school district will receive a pro-rata share of the referendum funds commensurate with their relative allocation of state aid. The projects will be fully state funded and there will be no local contribution required of the school district. Each school district currently knows what its allocation would be if the referendum is successful, and the allocations are posted on Governor Cuomo’s website:

Uses of Smart School Funds:

Funds received through the bond act may be used for capital projects related to educational technology equipment, including but not limited to, interactive whiteboards; computer servers; tablet, desktop, and laptop computers; high-speed broadband or wireless internet connectivity for schools and communities; capital projects to construct, enhance, or modernize educational facilities to accommodate prekindergarten programs; and provide instructional space to replace transportable classroom units; and capital projects to install high-tech security features in school buildings and on campuses.

To advise the state on how to “best invest” bond act funds, the governor established a three-member Smart Schools Commission; the members are:

  • Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO for Harlem Children’s Zone
  • Constance Evelyn, superintendent of the Auburn School District in Cayuga County
  • Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google

In fulfilling its charge, the commission will convene three public symposia in order to receive testimony from invited speakers. Two symposia have been conducted to date:

  • Symposium 1, held on July 21, 2014 in Albany, focused upon Best Practices in Connectivity and Technology-enabled Education and Learning. Speakers were: David Salway, director of the New York State Broadband Program Office; Dr. Ellen Meier, director of the Center for Technology and School Change at Teachers College, Columbia University; Dale Breault, assistant director of the Northeastern Regional Information Center of Capital Region BOCES; Thomas Phillips, superintendent of the Watkins Glen School District; and Patterson Green, superintendent of the Sharon Springs School District.
  • Symposium 2, held on September 17, 2014 in Buffalo focused upon Bridging the Broadband Divide in New York State. Speakers were: David Salway, director of the New York State Broadband Program Office; Tiffany Zhou, data analyst at EducationSuperHighway; Jonathan Windhausen, executive director of the Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition; Brenda Lehman, technology coordinator for the Marcus Whitman School Districts; and Dr. Peter Turner, dean of arts and sciences at Clarkson University.

The date and location for the third symposium was unavailable at the time of this writing.

Requirements to Receive a Smart Schools Grant

If the referendum is passed, in order to receive a Smart Schools Grant, each school district must complete a Smart School Investment Plan describing how the bond act funds would be used, and the plan must be approved by the Smart Schools Review Board.

The plan is required to be developed in consultation with parents, teachers, students, community members, and other stakeholders. More specific requirements regarding the content/format of the plan were unavailable at the time of this writing; however, additional requirements are in place to permit nonpublic students limited access to technology through this program, beginning in 2014-15.

Upon request, students enrolled in nonpublic schools must be provided access, at no charge, to Smart Schools classroom technology. The loan procedures are similar to those that are currently in place for loaning instructional computer hardware to nonpublic students. The extent to which nonpublic students may access technology is also capped and may not exceed $250 multiplied by the nonpublic school enrollment.

Each school district’s plan must be reviewed and approved by the three-member Smart Schools Review Board consisting of:

  • John King, Jr. – Commissioner of Education
  • Robert Megna – State Budget Director
  • Nancy Zimpher – Chancellor of the State University of New York

Until the time the referendum is passed – if it is passed – the following points are recommended:

  • Do not hire consultants or take other actions that will incur a fiscal cost to the school district.
  • School districts may engage appropriate stakeholders to begin to plan and prioritize the best uses of potential Smart Schools funds.
  • In addition to developing recommendations regarding “Allowed – Not Allowed” Smart Schools expenditures, the Smart Schools Commission will consider the appropriateness of using the funds to pay for current and in-progress projects. If your school district has such projects, you should identify, record, and track such costs.
  • School districts will need a speed of 100 kilobits (Kbps) in 2014. However, demand is growing and 1megabit (Mbps) per second is projected to be needed by 2015.
  • Given the one-time nature of the funds, consideration may be given to prioritizing infrastructure projects.
  • Remember to plan for professional development and support.