LCSD moving ahead with use of facial recognition system

File photoLockport City School District administrators say the district may begin using its new facial recognition system on suspended students and they anticipate full system implementation may happen in September. 

The Lockport City School District hasn't been able to complete the payment of its contract for its Smart Schools Bond Act project, and as a result the district is unsure when they will receive a $3.3 million reimbursement from New York state. 

The district's $3.3 million contract with Ferguson Electric includes items such as brand new security cameras and the controversial Aegis facial and object recognition software suite, which accounts for $2.7 million. The New York State Education Department has directed LCSD not to test the facial recognition software until they are sure the district has properly dealt with privacy concerns. 

Deborah Coder, the assistant superintendent of finance and management services, said the district has received a reimbursement for $185,874. That money was for school connectivity (network switches/components, wireless access points, network configuration/installation) and $20,244 for a visitor sign-in and badging system to be installed throughout the district, according to a state education department spokesperson.  

In order to finalize the Ferguson contract, the district must begin testing the cameras to ensure that things like the camera placement and angles are OK and the district will pay the final 5 percent of the $3.3 million contract when they are satisfied with the testing, Coder said. 

Coder said the audit committee decided to use money that was going to be put into a reserve to pay the $3.3 million contract, which she argues was a "fiscally prudent" move because it saved the district from paying interest. 

As soon as the final payment to Ferguson is made, the district will submit the claim for reimbursement, Coder noted. 

"We can’t make the final payment to Ferguson Electric because the state (education department) is under the impression we haven’t met all of their privacy concerns," Coder said.

Coder noted this kind of uncertainty in state reimbursement is not normal, but she added that the State Education department is listening to the concerns of the district. 

"So, the district is working collaboratively with the state to address all their concerns," Coder said. 

The school board unanimously approved the Ferguson Electric contract at its March 2018 meeting. The State Education Department became involved last year after the New York Civil Liberties Union asked for the project to be halted.