Improving Schools the Smart Way:
Applying for New York State Smart Schools Funding
By Dick Robertson, Jr., Vice President of Construction Management Agency
In the November 2014 New York State General Election, voters approved the Smart Schools Bond Act (SSBA), which authorized $2 billion of general obligation bonds to be issued to finance improved K-12 educational technology and infrastructure throughout all school districts in the state. The main idea behind SSBA is to provide funding for specific types of capital projects, including adding or upgrading technology, security, and pre-K learning spaces, to provide students with the educational tools, opportunities, and skills needed to succeed in the 21st century economy. After you first identify how much funding your district is eligible for (allocations can be viewed here), there are a few steps to take before submitting the required Smart Schools Investment Plan (SSIP) in order to get through the process smoothly.
Selecting and Prioritizing Projects
Though this funding is to be used for particular projects, you should plan on utilizing these funds in conjunction with an upcoming referendum or capital project monies to maximize on your return. I encourage you to review your existing capital plan and building condition survey, identify any existing priority projects that can be supported solely by this funding, such as security and/or technology and infrastructure upgrades, and then reallocate your capital project monies to support other additional work. That way you can complete work items within the designated SSBA scope while helping to alleviate budget strains on your capital plan. If you need support in deciding which projects should come first (i.e. upgrading infrastructure to support future expanded broadband technology), you can seek out insight from a trusted architect or CM partner for guidance. It is important to note that if any portion of a capital project is supported by SSBA funding, you will first need to submit a preliminary review of your plan through the Office of Facilities Planning PRIOR TO submitting your final SSIP, as well as achieve voter approval.
Getting the Right Input
Before putting together your SSIP, you should go through a well-thought-out process and create a strategic plan to best determine how to make the most effective use of the funds. It may help to look to thought-leaders in educational technology or case studies from other districts that have been successful to gather ideas that can be implemented at your own district. You first need to create a preliminary SSIP, which is required to be posted on your district website for 30 days. It is also important that your Board holds a hearing to gather input from parents, teachers, students, community members, and other parties, both as a requirement to meet the standards for SSBA funding and to ensure that all angles and opinions have been considered. I would also recommend that you review the full listing of the appropriate steps to take when applying for SSBA funding to avoid any other delays in the process.
Submitting Your Plan
SSBA requires that all districts submit and receive approval for their Smart Schools Investment Plan from the Smart Schools Review Board, which meets quarterly to review submissions. The SSIP must outline the intended expenses and projects to be completed using the funding – you can view and downloaded the SSIP application here – and all final SSIPs can be submitted on the New York State Education Department’s Business Portal. There is no deadline for submission of the Investment Plan because these funds do not expire, but you should plan enough lead time ahead of an anticipated project to allow for review and approval. The Review Board may approve, reject, or return your SSIP for modifications, but once the Plan is approved your district is authorized to spend the funds (up to the maximum amount of its Smart Schools allocation amount), which are distributed on a reimbursement basis. Most districts are then reimbursed through NYSED for costs incurred within 90 days in most cases.
For more information or additional FAQs about the Smart Schools Bond Act funding, visit the NY Smart Schools hub.