What should Kingston do with the Smart Schools Bond Act Money?

Did you know the details of the Smart Schools Bond Act before voting on November 4?  Unfortunately the statement/description of the bond act was not terribly clear on the ballot in my opinion.  This bond act is going to cost New Yorkers a pretty penny.

The debt this $2 billion bond will create is no small amount in the annual budget. E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center for Public Policy, puts the total at roughly $130 million per year, but that figure could change drastically depending on how long the note is for.  – How Bright is the Smart Schools Bond Act?  GothamGazette.com

Before the November vote, one article reported: “New York’s state and local debt burden is already enormous, totaling more than $17,000 per resident.” (from “New York’s school-bond boondoggle” article).  The debt for the bond act in 2016-2017 is expected to be $126,000,000 and then go up to $156,000,000 (yes 156 million dollars!) in 2017-2018.  If I understand correctly the duration of the bonds will be from 8 to 30 years depending on the percentages of how the money is used (technology/security versus infrastructure changes for pre-school) so I am not sure exactly how long we will be paying at those huge figures but it is a long time (New York City is expected to use all their $783 million for pre-school enhancements) and a lot of money!

Who decides how the money is spent?
If voters approve Prop 3, the Smart Schools Review Board, which is comprised of the Chancellor of the State University of New York, the Director of the Budget, and the Commissioner of Education (or “their respective designees”), will issue guidelines.

Using the guidelines, each district will be required to submit a Smart Schools Investment Plan.

According to the rules, school districts are required to consult with parents, teachers, students, community members, and other stakeholders on how the money will be spent. But it is unclear when the public will be given the opportunity to provide input (i.e. before or after a district draws up a plan). – How Bright is the Smart Schools Bond Act?  GothamGazette.com

Since school districts must consult with tax payers as to how the money is spent, we, as tax payers, need to do our due-diligence to be informed so that we can ask questions and provide input regarding Kingston’s best usage of the Smart Schools Bond money.

Please read this report about the Smart Schools Bond Act from the Citizens Budget Commission and become informed about the various issues.  You can ignore the fact that the commission recommended a “no” vote since the bond act was passed but there are a number of issues explaining why the recommendation was made that should still play into the decision about how Kingston spends the money it will receive from the Bond Act.

Capital investment in technology devices is unlikely to yield lasting benefits. Research has shown successful technology programs require significant investment in implementation and the integration of technology in pedagogical practice, not merely the purchase of new hardware like laptops and iPads. Moreover, no research establishes that investment in technology equipment generates a return in terms of cost savings or other benefits. – Vote “No” on the Smart Schools Bond Act, Citizens Budget Commission

If the Kingston City School District is going to use the money to invest in technology, how will each of the issues raised in the report be addressed in Kingston?

  • Mixed evidence from previous technology programs
  • Successful technology programs require ongoing, costly operational support
  • Short useful lives of technology
  • Other technology challenges

I am not saying that these issues can not be successfully addressed but that the issues must be faced so that we will not be paying for unsuccessful programs.  Articles here and here also discuss some of the issues associated with using the bond act money for technology.

Another option not mentioned much in the bond act discussion before the vote is the option to use the money to replace trailers.  Kingston does have trailers being used at Crosby, however based on comments from Crosby Principal Ms. Anderson in her board welcome at the October 15, 2014 board meeting, the Crosby trailers have just received new siding and some other repairs/updates and are very nice.  She was looking forward to being able to use them very soon so it does not sound like there are any plans to get rid of the trailers.  Do any other schools use trailers?  Bailey has one but I don’t know if it is used regularly or just as ‘back-up’ space. From what I have heard from my student at Bailey, it is actually a pretty nice classroom space.

Dr. Padalino mentioned at either a Coffee & Conversation or a board meeting before the bond act passed that Mr. Olsen was doing a side project to come up with some ideas of how the Kingston district might use the money should the bond act pass.  Since the bond act has now passed, we, as taxpayers, need to be prepared to hear what the district proposes and participate fully in the conversation regarding the best use of the Smart Schools bond money for the Kingston City School District.