Monday, April 6, 2015

Technology Infrastructure Initiative - Board of Finance

From comments and remarks by Dean Markham to Board of Finance - March 30, 2015

We as a Board of Finance have been evaluating over these past several weeks, the thoughtful requests and needs by our Department Heads, Town Manager, Board of Education and Superintendent. I believe all of us are impressed by the professionalism and creativity of all who testified before us and believe our Town is fortunate to have serving, so many very capable, dedicated and quality personnel. This is a major plus as we face enormous challenges on so many fronts. Regardless of our personal views as elected officials on how best to deliver, we do all agree that we want a better future for our citizens and community.

As we've listened to all these presentations, one overriding theme permeates almost every message - building or improving our infrastructure. That infrastructure takes on many forms - roads and bridges, an environmentally sound lake, facilities such as police station, town hall, schools, fire or public works equipment - much of which we are providing some funding or which the Town Council has begun addressing, and finally, an infrastructure of a different sort - our students ability to excel.

It is this last item - our children's ability to excel - that Mr. Turner, Mr. Hurst and I have been pondering and asking what could we do to provide a "game changer" in the equation and how do we reasonably fund it. As we listened to various presentations, several key elements to what we would like to propose emerged. Common Core State Standards has changed the educational outlook and presented more unfunded mandates. Technology is a key component and will be ongoing in our schools, as it is and will be within business, government and throughout our society. But we have constantly been behind the eight-ball, in many cases a day late, a dollar short and chasing the pack, rather than leading. We have so many talented students, and with the right tools, could make the opportunity for all.

It is with this in mind that we propose a major Technology Infrastructure Initiative for the Memorial and Middle Schools with an estimated cost of $750,000 - a program on the scope of that included for the High School technology component of the rebuilding program. Obviously the High School will have the programs. We exclude Center School at this time because of the RFP the Town Council voted on last week. A solid direction must be established for that facility.

The cost would entail a $750,000 addition to the Capital Program and Budget to be financed with a capital lease. First year lease payments are provided for the initial $250,00 of work under a 3 year capital lease / purchase. Leasing or short term notes provides rational funding during the life of much of the equipment. This initiative is not just a "hand me the money!" It will take a comprehensive plan that the three major Boards - Education, Finance and Town Council must agree to. But as I said - this could be a "game changer" for our community.

With such an initiative comes challenges and a bite of reality. Studying our Student Enrollment Projections, East Hampton has experienced a 13% reduction in student population over the past 10 years and NESDC projects another 14% reduction in the next 10 years, even taking into account several significant building projects such as Hampton Woods, Edgewater Hills and Skyline Estates. The Board of Education must face the reality that reductions of instructional staff must be addressed. The immediate implementation of this Technology Infrastructure Initiative will put East Hampton well ahead of our pier communities - maybe into the elite school systems in our state. And to our many parents who may have struggled with a decision to send or not send their children out of district to a magnet school for instance, we are proposing the changes for excellence.

In closing, our citizens and taxpayers demand the best but at a reasonable cost. The challenge to our Board of Education comes quickly - redesigning and reducing the budget with the radical changes implemented.