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Smart Schools Bond Update, developed by Catherine Knight

Q: What is the Smart Schools Bond Act?

A: Garden City community members have been asked by the Board of Education and members of the Board’s Legislative Affairs Committee how they would advise residents to vote on the “Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014” – a proposal on the ballot this November 4, 2014. Since the proposal contains very little specific information, advisement is difficult. “We have researched it, and tried to contact Albany for more information to no avail,” explained Dr. Feirsen at the October 22nd meeting of the Legislative Affairs Committee. “The committee is appalled by the lack of information.” “How does someone make an informed decision when you have no information?” added Board President Barbara Trapasso. For our residents, here is what we do know: Proposal 3 – the Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014 - authorizes the creation of state debt and the sale of state bonds in the amount of up to $2 billion dollars to be expended on capital projects that fall within four categories: the acquisition of technology equipment or facilities; the installation of high-speed broadband or wireless connectivity for schools and communities; the creation or updating of educational facilities to accommodate pre-k programs; and the installation of high-tech security features in schools. The Smart Schools Bond Act was announced by the Governor on April 17th and based on the recommendations of a three-member commission composed of Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, and Constance Evelyn, Superintendent of the Auburn School District. School districts have already been allocated various amounts by the proposal – Garden City Public Schools’ allocation is $561,721. Funding up to this level will only be provided if Garden City Public Schools completes a proposal that is subsequently approved by the state. (The allocations calculated into the Smart Schools Bond Act were based on the district’s percentage of formula school aid.) Although many school districts are getting much more based on need, at first glance, Garden City’s amount seems like a good thing. However, since other recent education legislation came with strings attached, important questions remain.

Additional Q:

Since the state must approve all Smart Schools Bond Act projects, exactly what types of technology can we purchase? Is it prudent to incur debt for technology when it’s outdated so quickly? Does this reduce the amount of state aid Garden City receives? What amount of money will each district be responsible for repaying? What is the tax burden on the debt service? A: Simply put, “We don’t know!” Unfortunately, the answers to these questions are unknown. Residents can call the Governor’s Office: 518 474-8390, or review the information made available at: http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/Elections/2014/Proposals/ProposalThreeFinal.pdf

NOTE: Since the writing of this release, on Monday, October 27th, the Governor’s Office released a 56-page report about the Smart Schools Bond Act that will be on the November 4th ballot. The report is available at: www.governor.ny.gov/sites/default/files/SmartSchoolsReport.pdf