District purchased controversial software

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | New information on the software was released by the school district today.

In response to a Freedom of Information request from the Reporter, the Shelter Island School District  provided materials today showing  it twice purchased software  capable of being used to influence voter turnout during budget balloting in violation of New York State law.

Superintendent Michael Hynes, after initially responding no comment to questions, said Tuesday afternoon that  “Shelter Island has only used the Bold software as an electronic database for voter registration and management. We do not use the system for any other purpose.”

The district had been named by Newsday Sunday as one of about a dozen Long Island school districts that had the software purchased from Bold Systems LLC of Bellport. Today, Newsday said it had discovered some 60 districts that had purchased the software.

Documents provided by the district show that it paid $6,655 for the software the first year and $2,495.50 for the current school year. The invoices for the first year shows the single charge, while the invoice for this year  shows additional expenses of $892.25 for printing; $730.25 for an item listed as BOLD/EMS 2.0 PSK and a delivery charge of $63.25.

It’s unclear what the $730.25 charge covers and the Bold website is currently not operational. During a time when the district is looking at every option to cut expenses, the total cost for the Bold contract’s second year amounts to $4,181.25, making the total investment for the software $10,836.25 over a two-year period.

In a descriptive brochure printed by Bold Systems and provided by the district in response to the FOIL request, the company advertises that it automates voter registration lists, a function sanctioned by the State Education Department. But while the brochure maintains its system is “compliant with all applicable State Education Department regulations,” the brochure also states that the software is capable of running call lists of parents and staff who haven’t yet turned out to vote and generates customized reports at crucial times during the day. Using such reports can enable district officials to generate calls to voters thought to be predisposed to approve budgets such as PTA members and staff who live in the district. That use is illegal, according to the SED.

Shelter Island bought the software through Eastern Suffolk BOCES as it does with various programs and services that can sometimes cost less because of BOCES’ ability to exact lower prices because of its bulk purchasing power.

Eastern Suffolk BOCES chief operating officer Gary Bixhorn Monday said Bold Systems had been asked to deactivate any component of its software that violated state law.

Bold Systems’ owner said Monday  he had deleted website advertising of the company’s ability to generate reports meant to influence election outcomes. But with the website down, that couldn’t be confirmed today.