Baldwin Schools Superintendent Dr. Shari Camhi said at a legislative forum last month that she wants state money owed to her district to be expedited. “When you get back to Albany, try to find our applications, because they’re sitting on someone’s desk up there,” she told the community’s Senate and Assembly representatives.
One of the applications she re-ferred to is for Baldwin’s share of the $2 billion Smart Schools Bond, which state voters approved in 2014 to improve educational technology and schools’ security infrastructure. The district is set to receive more than $2.6 million, but it may be a while before that money can be put to use.
Every school district had to apply to the State Education Department with an outline of how it planned to spend its portion of the bond money, which must pass a five-tier review process that involves at least two resubmissions. Baldwin’s application is in the expenditure review phase, meaning that Education Department officials are looking at what items Baldwin is looking to buy, the quantity and price of those items, along with “other budgetary questions,” according to the state.
Once that step is complete, the application will be reviewed by the offices of the commissioner of the Education Department, the director of the Division of Budget and the chancellor of the State University of New York before it can be sent to the Smart Schools Review Board for final approval.
Baldwin isn’t the only South Shore district frustrated by the long wait. Earlier this year, shortly after the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Lynbrook School District officials wrote to SED Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, saying the tragedy highlighted the need for improved security. Lynbrook’s application was in the expenditure review phase in March and received final approval by June.
It was unclear how long it would take for Baldwin’s application to receive final approval. Camhi said she would not just sit by waiting for that to happen, however. “We will work with legislators to ensure that expediting the approval process is a top priority,” she said in a statement.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, said that a number of issues affect a district’s application, including when it was submitted and the complexity of requests. “That being said, it’s still a first-rate priority, and someone sending their kids to the Baldwin School District should have the confidence that their kids are going to be safe,” Kaminsky said, “and that requires having the latest technology.”
The approval process could be quicker, the senator said, but he and his colleagues in government contend that it’s not just the Smart Schools Bond money that takes time for districts to receive. “There are general construction plans that had to be submitted to SED for approval that took a few years,” said Assemblyman Brian Curran, a Republican from Lynbrook who lost his reelection bid on Nov. 6.
Curran said the department had a backlog of grant applications that was only made worse when districts started seeking their share of the Smart Schools Bond. He and Kaminsky both lobbied Elia’s office to push Lynbrook’s plan through, and said they would do the same for Baldwin.
State Sen. John Brooks, a Democrat from Seaford, said school grants secured five years ago by his predecessor, Republican Michael Venditto, have only received final approval in the last year.
The main problem, officials said, is that the SED does not have enough employees to review all grants and Smart Schools Bond applications. “It’s basically that they don’t have enough people,” Curran said. “That’s an issue that needs to be addressed.” Brooks said he would like to see additional resources provided to the SED to speed up the application process.
An SED spokesman did not address questions about staffing levels within the department. Any staffing increase would have to be approved as part of the state budget process.