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LI educators back Cuomo plan to boost classroom technology

Jericho Public School Superintendent Henry Grishman interacts with

Jericho Public School Superintendent Henry Grishman interacts with second-grade student Sarah Cohon, 7, at Cantiague Elementary School in Jericho on April 2, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

A $2 billion plan by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to equip more students with tablet computers and other classroom technology is winning conditional support from many school leaders across Long Island.

However, some of those same education officials worry that annual costs of the governor's plan -- pegged as high as $100 million -- could mean less money available to meet other priorities. State budget officials say debt-service costs cannot be precisely calculated until schools decide how they want to spend the money.

Voters will have the final say, in any case. A statewide referendum is scheduled for Nov. 4 to determine whether Albany can borrow $2 billion to pay for more classroom computers and other purposes.

State lawmakers approved the action earlier this week, as part of an overall $138 billion budget package.

Cuomo has said the plan will allow students greater access to the "information superhighway" while also helping narrow the gap between what schools rich and poor can afford to spend on the latest apps.

"There are some schools with sophisticated new computer systems in the first grade," the governor noted in his State of the State message. "There are some schools where the most sophisticated piece of electronic equipment is the metal detector that you walk through on the way to the classroom and that is just wrong in the state of New York."

Nassau and Suffolk counties would be eligible for a regional total of nearly $260 million, as their share of statewide funding. Highest priority would go to districts deemed neediest by Albany.

Schools in relatively affluent communities, such as Manhasset and Jericho, would receive about $130 to $160 per student, while schools in communities of more modest means, such as Roosevelt and Wyandanch, would get about $1,500 to $1,600 per student.

All districts would have to submit detailed spending requests to the state in order to obtain funds.

Some financial analysts voice concern that the state might use long-term borrowing to pay for laptop computers and other technology that becomes obsolete after a relatively short time. State budget officials respond that terms of debt service will be tailored to the type of expenditures -- some of which could be long-term in nature.

Funds could be used, for example, to expand prekindergarten classroom space. Other allowable expenses include installation of school security surveillance systems, high-speed broadband access and interactive classroom display boards.

Lorraine Deller, executive director of the Nassau-Suffolk School Board Association, noted that many districts will probably need additional high-tech equipment to deal with a new generation of computerized tests under development by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, known as PARCC. The partnership is a consortium of 22 states, including New York.

PARCC tests are being field-tested on Long Island and elsewhere, and could possibly be in general use here by the 2015-16 school year.

Hank Grishman, superintendent of Jericho schools, said his district's technology money probably will be split between improving security systems and expanding Wi-Fi reception.

"We want to double or triple the number of hot spots around the district," he said.

With Michael R. Ebert

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