In Depth: The Waiting Game

May 18, 2017 06:54 PM

Two years and still waiting. The Smart Schools Bond Act NewsChannel 13 first told you about years ago is supposed to improve the technology in our schools. However, it's not always happening. Some schools are playing the waiting game.

Bureaucracy is part of the problem, but it appears the other hang up is just trying to get three people in the same room at the same time.

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Watervliet Superintendent Dr. Lori Caplan is frustrated.

"I don't really know what the hold up is, because we get a lot of finger pointing when we ask questions," she noted.

Questions like why it has taken so long to get approved for funds for school technology upgrades. The Smart Schools Bond Act, touted by the governor, was approved by voters two years ago.

Some districts have been approved, but other districts like Caplan's are playing the waiting game.

"Our plan was submitted in December," explained Caplan.

She means December 2015. They wanted to use the money for security cameras in the elementary schools and telephones that would serve as a safety feature in the event of a lockdown or intruder. They also wanted to get the most current technology like WiFi and Chromebooks.

She's re-submitted her plan half a dozen times -- the most recent last week.

"May of 2017 and just yesterday, they sent an email saying they're reviewing it once again, so they pull it out of the queue and they look at it," recalled Caplan.

She says the changes needed have all been minor. She wonders why someone doesn't just pick up the phone and call her to discuss the application, so that the process can finally move forward.

"They were simple mistakes, but it takes three months just to get some feedback," explained Caplan.

Dr. Carol Pallas, superintendent of the Schalmont School District, understands Caplan's frustration.

"They were using the carts and devices that we currently have, but it got to be kind of like 'The Hunger Games' at the middle school, in the sense that they were all clamoring to use the devices," described Pallas.

After a year, they used district money -- which they won't be reimbursed for, to purchase these new devices. The wait for approval was so long, Pallas says school districts started contacting one another.

"To say, 'Hey,' you know, 'Where are you in this process? Have you heard anything? What's going on?' Everybody was in the same boat," acknowledged Pallas.

Desperate, she contacted the District Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara and she finally got approved.

However, they still don’t have their equipment now. The reason? During the time they waited for approval, the price of the new devices went up and you guessed it.

"We have to now resubmit the new cost," explained Pallas. “Those have to once again be approved."

So who makes up the review board which approves the plans? According to the state Education Department, the three members of the Smart Schools Review Board are SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Robert Mujica, the director of the Division of Budget. A state Education Department spokesman says Mujica is the chair of the three-person committee. NewsChannel 13 tried to talk with him and was told an on-camera interview was not possible, so we emailed our questions on May 11. 

We wanted to know how many districts have applied for funding, how many are still waiting and why so few meetings have been scheduled. Through email, we were told so far, 183 plans were accepted. However, NewsChannel 13 went to the Smart Schools website and found more than 480 applications, so that leaves about 300 that appear to be pending. So, the unanswered question is if there are so many pending, why so few meetings?

While the delays are frustrating to Caplan, here's the reality of what those delays mean. Instead of iPads or Chromebooks, students are using Dell computers -- technology that works but that is also prohibitive.

"It's like everybody else has a smartphone and we have a flip phone. I mean that's what it is," pointed out Caplan.

More information:

Smart Schools Bond Act


Elaine Houston

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