In January, New York governor Cuomo announced the Bond School Technology Act and, in November, the $2 billion bond passed. It’s supposed to provide capacity for schools and classrooms to meet the demands of the 21st century, help students achieve and teachers teach, and ensure that New York’s students graduate with the skills they need to thrive. The bond focuses on high-speed broadband, STEM skills, high-quality, continuous professional development to teachers and principals.
The dollar amount available to each district is calculated according to a key—percentages of the State school aid. $783M are allocated for NYC. Several districts will get to spend over $10M. The MUFSD will “get reimbursed” $982K. NYS residents will be paying the bond off for decades to come. Depending on the type of the investment it will be 8, 20, or 30 years, respectively. The districts have to submit their investment plan to the Smart Schools Review Board for approval. Once approved, the districts may proceed. They’ll be reimbursed up to their allocated amount.
The NYSED issued a memo to school superintendents encouraging them to “engage” residents in discussions on the matter, explain parents the purpose of the bond, and involve them in developing the community investment plan. In some articles, the law was interpreted as “…the districts must consult” residents. The governor’s office published a document using a phrase “the school districts are required to consult…”1 The law, (bills S6356 and A8556) states:
30 . . . In developing such investment plan, school
31 districts shall consult with parents, teachers, students, community
32 members and other stakeholders.2 (Emphasis added).
The goal of the discussions is to bring ideas and develop an investment plan that will benefit the entire community.
“The Bond is paid for from the revenues of NYS. The School District does not incur the liability for the Bond. This money is a grant to the schools, it does not have to be paid back [by the School District itself]. As for the district not using the money, I don’t think that is an option, the money will be or has been allocated for each school district for a specific purpose and is to be used for that purpose. If I am reading the law correctly, if the school does not spend the full amount of the grant the first year, the unused amount will be carried over to the next year. The funds will be made available ‘only for reimbursement of expenditures of appropriations’ from the capital projects fund established for the purpose of the Smart Schools Bond Act. The schools that do not have the money up-front may borrow using a short-term note or Bond Anticipation Note (BAN), however, the [school] district would incur the cost of fees and interest charges. I did not see that these costs are reimbursable as part of this legislation.”
The school district stakeholders don’t have to wait for specifics in order to start brainstorming. They can use the Smart Schools Report as their guidance.3 The Report shows all possibilities the plan can encompass. For example in MUFSD, students of two parishioner schools, Our Lady of Lourdes and Grace Lutheran, could rent equipment in addition to the current loans. Also both, Malverne and Lakeview, public libraries could benefit. The Report goes beyond the purpose of developing a technology plan. It outlines a technocratic vision of education of the 21st Century. It will also allow stakeholders to assess at what stage their districts are in transformation to the 21st Century educational paradigm.
The Report is full of a beautiful theory, but residents must keep in consideration the mindset of people behind the theory. On December 3, 2014, Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon, which is one of the influential corporations funding the educational “reform”, expressed his opinion on education in an interview for Dallas News.
“I don’t think the [K-12] schools realize that we’re their customer,” he said. “They need to produce students with skills that allow them to get a job. If they don’t, they are essentially producing a defective product. And in this case, the product is a human being. It’s tragic.”4
In reformsters view, the educational institutions serve a single purpose—feed workforce for their companies. Most parents understand that education means much more than a job training. Most educators know their role is to help children imagine a life doing interesting things. Parents and educators have an opportunity to develop an important investment plan—how to transition education to the 21st Century. They should be able to find strong allies among school board members who actually enrolled their children in public schools.
At what stage of transition to the 21st Century is your district? How is the school district engaging stakeholders to get involved in developing the investment plan?
Update: On February 10, 2015, Malverne BOE at their meeting in public adopted the plan without ever presenting it to the community and inviting parents to participate in its development.
1 Smart Schools Q&A 9-15 (download pdf)
2 Law related to the Smart Schools Bond Act (download pdf)
3 Smart Schools Report (download pdf)
4 LINDENBERGER, MICHAEL A. “Exxon CEO Defends Common Core Education Standards That Perry and Cruz Have Opposed.” News. Dallas News, December 4, 2014. http://www.dallasnews.com/business/headlines/20141203-exxon-ceo-defends-common-core-education-standards-that-perry-and-cruz-have-opposed.ece