Board seeking answers for ACS building issues

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By Matthew J. Perry
Voting on May 20 saw the 2008-2009 budget for Andes Central School approved and its two nominees for the educational board, Michael Tuch and Gerald Murphy, elected with 99 and 97 votes, respectively.
But some financial issues remained unsettled when the board convened on May 22. The school finds itself in a bind created by two proposed upgrades to the school building. One, the addition of a modular locker room, was recently put out to bid; the single response, from FE Jones Construction, came in nearly $200,000 higher than the $976,000 that had been approved for the project. Superintendent John Bernhardt explained that the disparity throws a wrench into another approved project, an updating and expansion of the school’s public address system. Work on the PA system cannot proceed until the details of the locker room project have been ironed out.
“We can’t accept a bid over what the voters authorized,” Bernhardt explained. “We’re in a frustrating spot, but we have to resolve the issue.”
Although Bernhardt did not make a direct call for action, he did inform the board that other contractors might be asked to evaluate the locker room bid for its fairness. The school could be placed in the position of sending the project out for a second bid, or returning to the voters to ask for approval to close the money gap with an infusion from the capital reserve fund. Meanwhile, the locker room plans will need review to find areas where costs can be shaved to better fit the allotted budget.
The exploding cost of steel was identified as a primary cause of the gap between the ACS budget and the Jones bid. Fire regulations required plans for the locker room to be altered to include steel framing instead of wood.
Bernhardt was pleased to inform the board that 17 children have been registered for the school’s pre-kindergarten program, but noted that the increase could present yet another budgetary demand: once 18 children are enrolled in the program, the school is required to assign two assistants to the pre-K classroom.
“I think this is some of the most important money we spend,” Bernhardt said. He was adamant that this was one program where no corners should be cut.
ACS is also scheduled be connected to the Otsego-Northern Catskills BOCES regional informational network this summer. David Rutherford, director of ONC’s instructional technology services, gave a presentation to the board that offered glimpses of the possibilities and challenges created by online educational materials. Through the use of weblogs, interactive wikis, and forums such as YouTube and TeacherTube, ACS students could be connected with students throughout the world, via a concept Mr. Rutherford referred to as the “flat classroom.”
“One way to protect a student population like ACS is to keep people from having to move away,” he told the board. “One way to do that is to connect with the outside world and bring students outside the public school system into a shared learning environment.”
The primary challenges accompanying this technological shift would exist for teachers and administrators who are accustomed to a certain level of control over content and classrooms. “You have to teach in a different way,” Rutherford said. Policies of conduct and student monitoring are still required in interactive flat classrooms, and the teacher is still an active participant. “It’s a collaborative process that needs the support of parents and the administration,” as well as active input from students.
But on an evening when money problems consumed much of the airtime, Rutherford offered a tantalizing silver lining to the new frontier. Through open sourcing, he said, much of the software necessary for the flat classroom is now available for free. “You really don’t have to buy any more equipment than you already have,” the board was told.