Technology is focal point of Concord School District's proposed budget
Investing in technology is a top priority for the Concord School District, with money budgeted for increasing wireless access, providing iPads for students and more in next year’s proposed $72.8 million budget, which was presented to the school board last night.
“We’ve got to make internet accessible to everybody, and making some of these old buildings wireless is more challenging than it might seem at first blush,” Superintendent Chris Rath said.
The proposed budget is up 1.93 percent from last year, largely due to increases in salaries and retirement contributions. The district estimates about $24.5 million in revenue, leaving $46.6 million to taxpayers, which district officials say will set the rate at about $13.44 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Last night’s meeting offered a “30,000-foot view” of the budget, Rath said, and board members will have biweekly meetings over the next two months to go through each section of the budget in more detail.
Technology updates account for the largest increase in discretionary spending that the board has control over, and the increase is only a small piece of the total budget. Other increases are beyond the board’s control this year, including higher water and sewage costs, pay increases approved in negotiations last year and an almost $1 million increase in retirement contributions. Some money is also set aside for building maintenance such as replacing lockers.
The opening of the three new elementary schools last fall created a disparity in access to technology among the new and old buildings. In the new schools, each student has access to an iPad, and the teachers use educational apps during the day to enhance student learning. The older schools do not have full wireless capabilities yet.
About $425,000 is set aside for leasing computers and networking capabilities. That’s up more than 200 percent from last year’s budget. An additional $184,290 is marked for creating wireless access at Beaver Meadow, Broken Ground, and the middle and high schools, installing LCD wall screens and projectors compatible with Apple TV, and upgrading the middle school’s robotics lab. Together, those increases of $602,290 total less than 1 percent of the entire budget.
The largest portion of the budget is made up of salaries and benefits, which account for 53 and 24 percent, respectively, of the total budget. Salaries are increasing by 1.93 percent due to raises of 1 to 1.5 percent for various bargaining groups. Those raises are in the second year of contracts that were approved last year for teachers, teaching assistants, administrative assistants and unaffiliated groups. Benefits are increasing by 3.68 percent, which is largely because of a rise in required employer contributions. That rise is offset slightly in the total budget by a decrease in health care costs for the district, Rath said.
The school board is also negotiating with five bargaining units to renew contracts that expire in June: administrators, custodians, food service employees, bus drives and members of the maintenance and transportation unit. That negotiation process has just begun, so the proposed budget is estimating those salaries and benefits based on current costs.
“We’re beginning that process and hopefully (we) have the same success in negotiating a relatively quick and easy – it’s never entirely easy – outcome to those contracts, as well as we had last year,” said Bill Glahn, chairman of the board’s negotiations committee.
Also in the budget, about $228,000 has been set aside for replacing carpet and tiles, installing new intercom systems, updating the Rundlett courtyard and replacing lockers in the various schools. That’s up about $37,000 from last year’s budget. The board tries to set aside money each year for summer maintenance , Rath said. The roof at Concord High School will also be replaced, but that has not been included in the budget because it will be a costly project and the board may dip into capital reserve funds for it.
One of the most important pieces of the budget is the hiring of five teaching assistants for children with complex needs at the elementary school level, Rath said. The number of kindergarten, first- and second-grade students with autism and other emotional and mental needs is increasing, Rath said, and it’s important for the district to have the right resources to deal with those students.
“There’s some special populations that we’re seeing new needs in,” she said.
The district is also maintaining all of its programming and elective classes and keeping low-to-medium class sizes, which were important goals when crafting the budget, Rath said.
The proposed 1.93 percent increase to the total budget is slightly smaller than increases in the previous two years. As the state has shifted costs downward to the local taxpayers, school boards throughout the area are striving to keep the costs they can control down.
“Essentially the long-term (comparison) shows it’s not much discretionary money we are dealing with here,” said Kass Ardinger, school board president.
Over the next two months, the board will meet on Mondays and Wednesdays to go over specific sections of the budget in detail and modify them as members see fit. Public hearings are set for March 18 and 20, and the board will adopt the final budget March 27.