The phone lines have been “busy” in the Sag Harbor School District as of late, but not in a good way. Two weeks ago, prior to the holiday break, anyone who tried to call the elementary or high school in the district was greeted by a busy tone emanating through the other end of the receiver. Interestingly enough, the administrators, staff and students can call out, but phone calls going in are constantly met with the sound of a busy line.
And as recently as yesterday afternoon, the phones were again affected by the weather and calls to the school went unanswered.
Countless similar incidents in recent months have left parents, administrators and local business people frustrated by an inability to reach anyone in the district. Phone service has been interrupted at least five times since the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year.
“The problem is old wiring,” explained school district superintendent Dr. John Gratto on Tuesday. He added that every time it rains a considerable amount water leaks into the system and the system goes down.
In order to offset the problem, the school’s website now includes “emergency numbers” in case a parent needs to get in touch with their child during the school day. These numbers are actually the cell phone numbers of staff members in the school’s offices. But this system is only for parents looking to reach their children in the event of an emergency, and not other community members trying to reach staff or conduct business with the district.
Months ago, Gratto said that the district was considering an entirely new phone system, not only to save money, but in order to reduce the problems the school was experiencing with the phones.
In early November, Gratto said that the district decided to leave the Metel phone company, their current provider, and switch to Cablevision’s Optimum Lightpath for both internet and phone service, which he said could save the district nearly $30,000 this year alone.
Gratto said that the phones will be converted by January 16, and that the new data system, which includes content filtering and web server email, will be switched over by Friday, January 23.
But former school board president and current budget committee advisory member Sandy Kruel said that the district completely re-worked the entire phone system just four years ago.
“I have parents calling me at home,” she said on Tuesday. “They want to know what’s going on with the phones.”
She also said that the parents have expressed their frustrations with the system to school district administrators at PTA and PTSA meetings.
“They have been to the PTSA asking questions and all we keep hearing is they are going to fix it,” she said. “It’s a challenge — definitely a challenge.”
Vincent Raicovi, the district’s technology coordinator, said that the system would be fully functioning by the end of this month.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” Raicovi said. He explained that the problem lies not with the phone system, but with the service provider and expects the new phone system will alleviate the problems with the Internet service as well, which he said has been disconnecting often.
“What we are doing for the Internet service is increasing our bandwidth at least six times to where it is now.” This, he said, will help improve efficiency.
On Wednesday morning, with the wind and rain he said it was lucky the lines were still working, and “knock on wood,” they didn’t go out. By the afternoon, of course, that changed.
According to Raicovi, there are 110 extensions in both the elementary and high schools that are affected when the lines go out.
On November 25, Raicovi said new fiber optic lines were installed by Cablevision and now the school is awaiting the final touches for the system to be switched over.