By Ron Leir
The already fiscally strapped Belleville Board of Education has committed to borrowing more than $3 million for technology upgrades.
By a 3-2 vote, with one abstention, on Dec. 15, the board agreed to enter into a lease purchase transaction that will “finance the acquisition of infrastructure technology, servers and a phone system,” according to the resolution it adopted.
Voting for the measure were Board Vice President Jeanne Lombardi, Peter Zangari Jr. and Raymond Kuebler; Lillian Torres abstained; and Board President John Rivera and William Freda opposed it.
“I just didn’t have enough information to vote ‘yes,’ ’’ Rivera told The Observer last week. He said state monitor Thomas Egan brought the lease-purchase proposal to the board without any advance notice, so the board had no opportunity to review it.
The resolution says that on the advice of bond counsel McManimon, Scotland & Baumann LLC, the board is accepting a bid by U.S. Bancorp Government Leasing and Finance as the “purchaser/ lessor” at an annual interest rate of 2.189% for a principal amount not to exceed $3,323,512 which is repayable over five years.
Proceeds from the sale of the lease “shall be applied to pay costs to acquire and to install the equipment and pay the costs of entering into the lease.”
Egan told The Observer that the financial arrangement is being done “under state contract” and will allow the district “to replace and improve its internet and technological infrastructure in order to make it ready for the [state-mandated] PARCC [Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College & Careers] testing scheduled for March.
“Without this equipment replacement, the district would not be ready for the PARCC,” Egan said. The new equipment’s acquisition and installation will be overseen by Pro Media Technology Services of Little Falls and “is being purchased on state contract.”
Egan said the old equipment “could not support the wireless technology” needed to facilitate the administering of the testing.
Egan said there is a “phone component” to the new technology that will “enable telephone data transmissions, servers and streaming to run more efficiently.”
Pro Media was initially brought into the district over the Labor Day weekend after the district’s internal phone system and computers crashed and, ultimately, the communications services being supplied through Clarity Technologies Group of Mine Hill were discontinued.
Previously retained to install an elaborate school security system for $1.9 million, Clarity in 2013 also received two other contracts: one for $10,000 per month for phone service and another for $20,000 per month to provide IT support. The board has retained certain payments from Clarity and both parties are in arbitration over how much Clarity is owed. At the monitor’s urging, the board has discontinued its IT contract with the vendor.
Meanwhile, the board continues to await the findings of an audit to determine exactly how much it overspent during the 2013-2014 school year. A preliminary assessment by Egan is that the district ended the school year on June 30 more than $4 million in the red. It was the discovery of the spending lapse that led to the monitor’s arrival in May.
In other business at the Dec. 15 meeting, the proposed appointments of Dave Joisil and Saul Escobar as teachers of health and physical education at Belleville Middle School were pulled at the direction of Acting Superintendent Ricardo Acosta after questions were raised about the selection process, Rivera said. “We’re going to do it over again.”
Also, of the 44 people who responded to the district advertisement seeking applicants for the superintendent’s job, the board’s search consultant has narrowed down that list to six, Rivera said. On Jan. 10, the board – which will reorganize on Jan 6 – is due to interview those six candidates and will likely make an appointment by late March, he said.