Schenectady school district officials are moving forward with a plan to start spending down its $9.4 million classroom technology allotment under a statewide program.
The district plans to start with a nearly $2.7 million investment upgrading the district’s underlying computer network infrastructure, setting the table for subsequent upgrades to classroom technology and an expansion of student computer devices.
The school board earlier this week approved the plan for the first of three phases of technology spending: first, improve and strengthen the district’s network infrastructure; second, purchase desktops, laptops and projectors for classrooms; and third, expand student access to devices.
“This refresh will provide stable ground to build upon,” according to the plan, which is open for public comment for 30 days. “Phases two and three will focus on equipping schools with enhanced classroom technology and increasing the number of high-tech learning devices available to staff and students.”
The spending plan – earmarked at $2,699,687 – included cost estimates inflated by more than $500,000 due to concerns over tariffs on technology products from China.
While the district’s plan envisions commencing work on the network infrastructure during the summer, it’s unclear how long it will be before the district will be approved to move ahead with actual purchases. School district leaders across the state have complained about delays in getting the state approvals necessary to advance on spending Smart Schools funds. Some plans have taken more than 12 months to gain approval.
Schenectady had initially filed a separate plan about three years to spend a chunk of its allotment on new computers and technology for Oneida Middle School as it opened anew in 2016. The district pulled back that plan and shifted purchases to the general fund due to delays winning state approval.
“They move very slowly,” Superintendent Larry Spring said of the Smart Schools approval process.
Work order progress
The district’s maintenance crews have made progress on a backlog of work orders from schools across the district. But the average work order has still sat unfilled for greater than 110 days, district business manager Kimberly Lewis told the school board Wednesday.
The district had 460 outstanding work orders, as of Feb. 2, with an average of 111 days. During a similar time period last year, the week ending Jan. 20, the district had 541 outstanding work orders with an average age of 140 days.
The work orders cover a range of problems at schools, from broken pipes to walls in need of paint. Some of the outstanding orders are being delayed until upcoming capital projects, while others sit unfilled as the district’s maintenance workers respond to heating problems and other immediate concerns.
District officials said they have cleared out a lot of work orders that had contributed to the backlog and that they are getting more efficient in responding to existing work orders. But crews are often diverted from dealing with existing work orders to respond to problems from aging boilers and other issues in old facilities – issues that can’t wait 111 days.
“At the root of it is beginning many, many years ago, we were not attending to capital work,” Spring said during the Wednesday board meeting. “At its core, it’s an infrastructure problem.”