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BOE reviews the end of the year, internet access, appointments

PINE PLAINS — With a few weeks left until the school district budget vote and Board of Education (BOE) election, the Pine Plains BOE focused its discussion on school district business at its recent meeting on Wednesday, May 20.

Beginning at 7 p.m., the meeting was held via video conference due to social distancing rules in the days of the coronavirus pandemic. With the exception of BOE President Chip Couse, all BOE members were present along with Superintendent of Schools Martin Handler; Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Michael Goldbeck; Director of Curriculum and Instruction Brian Timm; Director of Pupil Personnel Services Janine Babcock; Seymour Smith Intermediate Learning Center Principal Julie Roberts; and Cold Spring Early Learning Center Principal Gian Starr. In Couse’s absence, BOE Vice President Anne Arent ran the meeting.

Under the administrators’ reports, the BOE reviewed end-of-the-year plans and discussed arrangements for families and students to pick up their belongings left in schools when the governor shut them down due to the pandemic. In lieu of gathering in-person for the traditional moving up ceremonies, there has been talk about hosting a drive-by event for the fifth-graders at Seymour Smith and a virtual bubble event for the first-graders at Cold Spring.

Handler then discussed what he believes is the biggest barrier to virtual learning: internet access. As estimated in a survey conducted by Timm, Handler said roughly 10% of households in the district don’t have internet access or adequate access. Though the district has done a lot of copying of hard copy instructional materials, Handler said it isn’t as effective as online learning.

“Particularly if we go to more synchronous online learning, the internet becomes a real critical thing,” Handler said. 

Though he recognized New York State Assemblymember Didi Barrett’s (D-106) help in trying to get the free internet access for students, Handler said this is still a work in progress. Additionally, he said the district is looking at what can be done to get internet to students who don’t have it. 

Based on what Director of Technology Richard Harlin has determined from reviewing all area internet providers located in the district, Handler said Verizon will offer a WiFi hotspot free of charge and unlimited data for $40 a month, though he said this begs the question of who will pay for it. As a possible partial solution, Handler said Spectrum has a $15 a month plan for students on free and reduced lunch plans, though he noted that Spectrum doesn’t provide coverage for the entire school district. Meanwhile, T-Mobile will supply a WiFi hotspot and unlimited data for $20 a month, though the district would need to commit to the plan for one year. Handler said T-Mobile will send Harlin a trial phone to use in various locales in the districts to determine the provider’s reliability.

“We have three weeks to go in the school year,” Handler said. “We know we have some kids that are going to have to do credit recovery at the high school in order to stay on the graduation path, so they may be needing something this summer. 

“Summer school is a big question mark,” he added. “We don’t even know if it’s going to be virtual, in-person or whatever. In any case, we’re doing… a lot of this planning for September because we know whether we’re 100% virtual or partially virtual or whatever, we better have a plan in place to supply internet for all of our kids. It becomes an equity thing: no kid should be disadvantaged because they’re in a place where they can’t get internet or  can’t afford internet.”

Handler said the BOE should think about whether it is willing, particularly for people who show financial need, to pick up all or part of the cost. Timm also reminded the BOE that along with providing students with internet access, it should consider monitoring how it’s being used.

The BOE then authorized the terms of a memorandum of agreement signed by Handler and the president of the Pine Plains Federation of Educators, Inc., dated Friday, May 15.

Next, the BOE appointed Renee Shea as a typist for a 26-week probationary period at a rate of $18.57, starting Monday, June 1.

For the upcoming 2020 annual meeting and election ballot count on Tuesday, June 9, the BOE appointed Linda Rosato as chairperson; Frank Nannetti, Patricia Nannetti, Rose Diaz, Helene Sellerberg, Debbie Demchuk, Jean Osofsky, Joan Taylor, Anne Noone and Abigail Audenino as vote tellers; and Patricia Audenino, Laura Rafferty and Maria Hutman as vote tellers and volunteers. The board also authorized District Clerk Julia Tomaine to make any substitutes if necessary.

Moving forward with the fall coaching staff appointments for 2020-21, the BOE appointed Rob Scott as head coach and Michael Cooper, Steve Huber, Travis MacDonald and Jeremy Weber as assistant coaches for the Pine Plains football team. For its boys soccer team, Steve Sandman was appointed head coach while Marco Reyes was appointed modified coach; for its girls soccer team, James Wiley was appointed head coach while John Blackburn was appointed assistant coach. 

For the cross country team, Stephanie Rhoades was appointed head coach. For the volleyball team, Erin Doyle and Corrina Burton were appointed co-head coaches while Larry Strickland was appointed the modified coach. For the field hockey team, Deb Beam was appointed head coach while Kerri Seidel was appointed modified coach.

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