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Plainview School Board Discusses Technological Initiatives

Details on department-by-department budget numbers combed

After being presented with an overview of the first draft of the 2012-2013 school budget on Feb. 27, members of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education began going through the numbers, department-by-department, at the latest meeting on Monday, March 5. In general, while most departments covered thus far are projected to see only small increases or reductions from last year, the intention to provide students with access to new technologies accounts for modest increases in some areas.

During the usual slate of announcements, Assistant Superintendent Ryan Ruf acknowledged that Kim Parahus, director of School Facilities and Operations (Buildings and Grounds) was recently named a VIP Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women (NAPW). Parahus later provided information on the Buildings and Grounds budget for next year, as well as planned capital projects, in great detail.

In other positive news, Assistant Superintendent Jill Gierasch announced that 200 middle school students recently participated in the Veterans of Foreign Wars Patriot’s Pen contest, an essay contest on the topic of citizenship, and received recognition on the local and county level. Interim K-12 Math Chairman Ron Labrocca also announced that 14 students had recently competed in the Long Island Math Fair, held at Hofstra University, and four students have advanced to compete at the finals in April.

Delving in the budget, Pupil Personnel Services will see few changes from last year, however the savings associated with bringing the TAG program in-house will lead to a 2.6 percent reduction. The technology department, however, is projected to see an 11.2 percent increase due to the need to replace old computers, and miscellaneous costs such as the purchase of a wireless netbook cart at the high school and a few more interactive whiteboards. Ruf noted that after next year, the district’s overall interactive whiteboard initiative would be close to complete, with an interactive whiteboard in virtually every classroom where requested. In addition, the Adobe Suite of software (which includes popular programs like Photoshop and Flash), will be updated.

The need for new cameras leads to a small projected increase of 1.6 percent in the art department. Board President Gary Bettan took the opportunity to say that while other districts were looking to “slash and burn” art and music departments in light of current financial difficulties, he thinks that the board must continue to respect the importance of these programs to education.

The music department is projected to see a more sizable 13.2 percent increase due to the need to purchase new instruments, instrument repair, and to implement a new program. The district’s Music Chairman Josh Golbert noted that when the district buys instruments, they try to buy quality products in the hopes of getting decades of use out of them. The department also plans to purchase USB microphones in order to begin using Smart Music, explained as a “personal music tutor.” Students will be able to use the program to provide different kinds of musical accompaniment while they practice, and use the USB microphones to record their performances.

In Research/Media, an allocation for netbooks in the research lab is projected to raise the budget by approximately $5,000 over last year (11.2 percent).

While the library budget is only projected to go up 3.8 percent, a paradigm shift towards e-readers prompted some discussion from the board. While the library still plans to buy traditional materials, it will also purchase Barnes and Noble Nook E-readers in order to start making the transition to digital books. Board members asked about the possibility of using other reading devices, such as the Amazon Kindle or Apple’s iPad. There are issues with purchasing the Kindle (Amazon does not accept purchase orders) but district officials are still looking into the iPad.

“We’re not ruling iPads out,” said Deputy Superintendent Arthur Jonas. Board members discussed that this initiative was just the beginning of the shift towards e-readers, and that seeing how students utilize the Nooks will be informative.

In other technology news, while JFK’s radio station, WPOB, has a relatively tiny budget, the club’s allotment is projected to increase by 92.1 percent (coming in at $15,104, compared to $7,861 last year.) This significant increase is due to a one-time expense to set up an online streaming service so students, parents and friends can listen to the student-run radio station online.

Transportation/Health and Safety is projected at a 1.7 percent increase, due to the need to buy a new bus and increased diesel fuel costs. Ruf clarified that this bus purchase does not refer to one of the new electric buses that have been in the news lately.

While the Buildings and Grounds department anticipates a -1.6 percent change in the budget, many improvement projects are in the works, such as the installation of electric components for ceiling-powered projectors, and the district is working with National Grid to convert some buildings from using fuel oil to natural gas. One item under Buildings and Grounds, the Sewer Usage Fee ($95,293) is still pending litigation in the county, therefore it’s unknown whether or not that money will actually be spent.

Other programs discussed were Private and Parochial School Textbooks (up 1.4 percent), 4th R (up 45.9 percent due to the offering of two additional courses), Adult Education (-0.37 percent), and the Senior Citizens Club (up 4.5 percent).

Finally, in Capital Projects, Parahus explained that $850,140 is slated to pay for exterior door replacements where needed throughout the district, some sidewalk and curb replacements, and electrical and lighting upgrades to the auditoriums at several buildings: JFK High School, POB Middle School, Mattlin Middle School and Stratford Road Elementary School. Other tentatively planned projects include wireless clock installations at both middle schools, and pool filter room upgrades at JFKHS and POB MS.

Parahus also stated out that most of the 2011-2012 Capital Projects have been submitted to the State Education Department—one, the IP Telephony project, has been partially submitted—but the work has not been completed yet. Most of the projects begun in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 have been completed, though one has been re-bid and one is still in the design phase.

During public participation, several speakers expressed concern regarding  the current superintendent search, as Superintendent Gerard Dempsey will be retiring at the conclusion of the 2011-2012 school year. Bettan said that the board has met with consultants, and the search will be gearing up soon. Resident Jane Pace also addressed the board to recommend that an anti-texting component be added to the driver’s education program, since texting-while-driving recently led to an LI teen driver’s tragic death.

The next meeting of the board of education will be a special budget session on March 26; this meeting will start at 7 p.m. at Mattlin Middle School instead of the usual 7:45 p.m. Parents can still register for “Parent University,” to be held on March 28 at Mattlin from 7 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. K-12 parents can sign up to attend programs such as “ABCs of College Admission” and “Internet Safety 101.” Childcare will be available during this event. To RSVP, e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .