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Many poor schools in Jefferson, Lewis counties miss out on technology vouchers

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The state Education Department established a state school technology voucher program to disburse $87 million to poor schools throughout the state.

However, Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Jack J. Boak Jr. said the terms of eligibility — having more than 50 percent of enrolled students receiving free or reduced lunch — ironically does not help the most struggling districts in Jefferson and Lewis counties, such as Sackets Harbor Central and Copenhagen Central school districts.

“Our free and reduced lunch numbers are very deceiving, because those numbers are always underreported,” Mr. Boak said. “Parents don’t want to be identified as qualified, so they don’t always fill out the paperwork.”

Dozens of poor north country schools in 18 districts are eligible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in vouchers to purchase technology resources. Twelve of those districts — including Massena Central, Brasher Falls Central and Ogdensburg City school districts — are in St. Lawrence County.

Mr. Boak said he believes the investment program was made for schools because the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers will require students to be more technologically savvy by next year.

“I think what this is is that future assessments starting in 2014 are supposed to be online,” Mr. Boak said. “It’s quite an investment in technology for a lot of places.”

According to a press release sent last week, the program was created from a settlement agreement between Microsoft Corp. and state consumers in 2006.

“Far too often, students in low-income school districts miss out on the use of the latest technology in the classroom,” state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said in the press release. “Our goal is to graduate every student with the skills and the knowledge they need to be successful in college and careers.”

Each eligible school must apply for the voucher to receive the money.

“The vouchers, which can be redeemed for eligible products from any technology company, can be used to purchase computer hardware, software and equipment needed for computer networks and technology infrastructure,” the press release said.

Watertown City School District is eligible for $174,009 to be split among Knickerbocker Elementary, North Elementary, Ohio Street Elementary, Starbuck Elementary, Harold T. Wiley Intermediate and Case Middle schools.

Superintendent Terry N. Fralick said only two buildings in the district do not have 50 percent or more students eligible for free or reduced lunch.

“This is just something that came up,” he said. “We haven’t sat down to think about what we’d acquire with it, but we’ll be looking at it soon.”

Three other districts in Jefferson County had schools that were eligible for the funds:

n Four schools in Indian River Central School District are eligible for a total of $132,209.

n Two schools in Carthage Central School District are eligible for a total of $62,900.

n Mannsville Manor Elementary in South Jefferson Central School District is eligible for $25,307.

Harrisville Central and South Lewis Central school districts were the only two in Lewis County with schools eligible for the voucher.

A full list of eligible schools can be found at www.p12.nysed.gov/technology/pro grams/NYS_Eligible_Public_Schools_2_12.pdf.

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