ALBANY—Board of Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch didn’t give a direct answer when asked whether voters next month should approve a $2 billion bond act to boost technology in schools.

“I would never say to districts why they should vote for something,” Tisch told Capital on Wednesday. “I’m not familiar enough with the 700 school districts across the state to say it’s good for everyone. … Every district has its own needs and I think they all need to make those decisions for themselves with recognition of what’s going on in their communities. That’s why there is a voting booth.”

Nevertheless, Tisch said she expects passage of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s bond proposal, which would fund not only technology upgrades but also capital improvements for pre-kindergarten classrooms and overcrowded schools that use trailers to house some students.

Asked whether the bond act would be good or bad for schools if it passes, Tisch said, simply: “I believe it will pass.”

Tisch’s ambivalence toward the bond act reflects that of statewide school groups, which routinely advocate for increased funding but don’t plan to lobby for or against the bond issue.

When Cuomo first announced the bond act, school groups gave the proposal a lukewarm reception, arguing that any additional funding would be better spent to restore recent cuts in aid that have forced some districts to lay off teachers and eliminate programs.

“I know of no state education groups—or any groups, for that matter, that are actively advocating for passage of the act,” said David Albert, spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association.

”I’ve heard nothing about lobbying the bond act,” said Carl Korn, spokesman for New York State United Teachers.

The fiscally conservative Empire Center seems to be the only group actively lobbying on behalf of the bond proposal—and the think tank is decidedly against it.

“The annual payments on $2 billion in bonds could ultimately come to more than $130 million a year,” E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center, wrote in an op-ed in Wednesday’s New York Post. “A far better way to ‘equalize opportunities to learn’ would be to spend that money on added annual aid to public and charter schools serving the state’s neediest children.”

McMahon joins other financial experts in warning against the use of long-term debt to finance the purchase of products with short useful lives, as Capital has reported.

Tisch agrees, saying on Wednesday that she hopes districts avoid investing in technology that will soon be obsolete.

“I am a believer that what’s potent in technology today, six months from now is on the shelf, an old hat,” she said. “So my hope is that districts … have a long range vision for what the best uses of technology are and use them masterfully to deliver a quality curriculum.”

It’s unclear whether Cuomo plans to actively campaign for the bond act. At campaign events around the state, Cuomo has emphasized his position on women’s rights rather than his record on contentious education issues.

A spokesman for Cuomo punted to the governor’s campaign for comment on whether Cuomo plans to promote the bond act before Election Day. A campaign spokesman did not respond.

The governor did, however, assemble a three-member commission to determine how the bond money should be spent, if it’s approved. That panel has held three public hearings around the state since July. Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy touted the proposal at one of the hearings, held in Buffalo last month.

“I would think the voters around the state would see how important this effort is, because it really will help transform schools,” he said.

© 2014 Capital New York

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