The discovery of the purchased cameras came during a Power Point presentation given by Edelman on security and prevention measures administrators are taking to combat bullying and illegal activities. Edelman said he believes Onteora is the only school in Ulster County without surveillance cameras and said it poses a security concern. Trustee Laurie Osmond pointed out the surveillance cameras during the presentation, making it clear that she had no part on their purchase and that now, “the damage is done.”
Recently hired Superintendent, Dr. Phyllis Spiegel-McGill, was also unaware the purchase was made behind closed doors, but informed the board once she discovered the equipment’s imminent arrival. “I’ve been trying to come up to speed really quickly on this,” said McGill, “to find out why weren’t the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed.” McGill apparently was not happy about the procedure. “Initially if you read my Friday notes, I was pretty upset about it and I’m still upset about it.”
According to Assistant Superintendent for Business Victoria McLaren, the order was made through the BOCES State Contract Vendors, and that was given as the reason that no board approval was necessary. Money from a leftover fund that was earmarked for the Onteora Teacher Association contract negotiations and no longer needed for that purpose was utilized for the purchase. Thirty percent is to be covered by BOCES. Trustee Tony Fletcher said, “It seems a shame to be spending more money on non-human surveillance than to be spending money on a human and I regret that.” In October 2010, Gregory proposed a School Resource Officer (SRO) at a cost of approximately $85,000. “Our interim Superintendent (Gregory) dropped the idea of the SRO because of concerns about the cost,” said Fletcher.
Edelman explained how the surveillance would work. “We’re not going to have someone stationed in front of a monitor watching every camera.” Instead, recordings of any significant event such as a fight or theft could be made available to review. Cameras would be placed around the parking lot, bus garage, hallways, storage areas, but not in the classrooms.
Currently the district has no policy in place for surveillance cameras except for on school buses.
“I come from a country (England), and I still have dual citizenship, that has the most surveillance cameras in the world per capita and it’s not working,” said Fletcher.
Fletcher warned of a “slippery slope” where abuse of power could invade privacy rights.
Edelman said, “I agree with you, I do want to respect the rights of students, I think there is a commitment towards respecting students, faculty staff and all of us. We want to find it where people are safe, but don’t want to be put upon unnecessarily. School is hard enough without feeling that someone is analyzing your every move.”
Trustee Dan Spencer said the board’s main responsibility was policy. “We need to make sure we have put something in place to prevent it from being taken to another degree for something it’s not made to be used for.”
Edelman felt there was ample time to develop a policy. “Even though the actual cameras are scheduled to go up in the next few weeks, before the system goes live I think there is ample time to put together a proper policy.”
Fletcher said the discussion comes first. “I think we need to have the policies in place before we have the cameras in place.”
Trustee Rob Kurnit agreed. “I feel like this should have been something brought to the board and as a result brought to the public and parents,” he said. “I feel like there should have been discussions.”
Edelman believes the public support will be for the cameras. “I have received quite a few requests from parents by putting up cameras, especially in the area of bullying and harassment.” He added that the Gay Straight Alliance gave a “very strong endorsement.”
School Board President Ann McGillicuddy said to Edelman, “Philosophically, I’m really not supportive of video surveillance, but I’d also like to support you and your recommendations to the board, so going back to the policy is the ultimate way for us to make sure these cameras are used in the way we want them to be used and not any other way.”
McGill said all reviews of surveillance tapes would need her approval and is not supportive of watching students’ everyday routines. McGill points out that the cameras are for safety only. “It’s an awesome responsibility for the care and safety of about 1500 kids in the district and we all take it very seriously…none of this is happening because the kids aren’t safe, it’s just that, I never want to have what ifs.”
In other news….
The April 27 special meeting was specifically called for the board to conduct votes on BOCES’ administrative budget and on candidates for the Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Three incumbent candidates were running unopposed; seat one of Ellenville went to Maxine Chapin, seat two of Saugerties went to Walter Frey and seat three of West Park went to Florence Hyatt. They will each have three-year terms. Seats considered “At-Large” had three candidates for two seats. The school board choose Patrick Rausch and Maureen Sheehan. The board approved the administrative budget og $2,423,957.
The school board approved a plan that will upgrade lighting fixtures throughout the district except for outside lighting and Phoenicia school. Alliance Energy Solutions is a company subcontracted by Central Hudson and doesn’t serve Phoenicia school. This is a $221,000 project that will be at no cost to taxpayers and is set to begin sometime this summer. Energy consultants Jason Andrews and Tom Sheridan of Alliance Energy said that all indoor lighting would be replaced with new and efficient equipment. “The whole idea is to reduce the amount of electricity used on the grid,” said Sheridan. Central Hudson began the program in order to comply with new policies on energy sufficient lighting that is being phased in. Lights are additionally supplied for three years at no cost to the district and all work is guaranteed for one year. ++
The Onteora district has posted the following notice regarding the deployment of surveillance cameras at the Middle/High School:
“In an effort to enhance the climate and culture and improve our safety and security measures at the middle and high school building, video surveillance equipment is in the process of being installed. A policy is also being developed to ensure that the concerns of the Onteora Community are addressed. If you are interested in providing feedback about our intended use of this system or would like to provide input for our policy development, please email High School Principal Lance Edelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.”