CHATHAM–The Board of Education discussed the budget for next school year last week, including the governor’s proposed state budget for education. Board members also learned of a new state test requirement likely to add more costs for district taxpayers.
Business Administrator Michael Chudy gave a presentation to the board on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget proposal, which would direct $6,330,181 in total state aid to Chatham, in the 2013-14 school year. Figures released by the state last month indicate that the district would see a 2.8% boost in total aid in the new school year compared to the current year. But Mr. Chudy’s calculations of the actual difference showed a different picture resulting from the way the state reimburses districts for costs like transportation and special education, among other factors.
In an interview this week Mr. Chuddy said of the state aid the district expects this year, “We’re almost flat year over year.”
The state legislature and the governor have not yet agreed on school spending, which is part of the overall state budget.
Mr. Chudy also presented to the board a draft of the administration portion of the school district’s 2013-14 budget plan. Administration and support costs will total $3,518,468, an increase of almost $29,000. Total Operations and Maintenance expenses are anticipated to decrease by over $27,000, helped along by big drops in electricity and telephone costs.
Mr. Chudy said he will present more portions of the budget at the next meeting, as the board works its way through budget requests ahead of the district-wide vote in May on the district’s spending plan.
At the February 12 business meeting Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo told the board that the district has received memos from the state with new requirements regarding online testing. The state intends to require that Regents exams be taken by students on computers, either desktop or laptop models, possibly beginning in the 2014-15 school year. She said the state Education Department has sent guidelines and recommendations so schools can be prepared when the requirement takes effect. In addition to purchasing new computers or laptops, schools will have to ensure that the bandwidth for sending and receiving state test data meets state requirements.
The state has suggested that schools purchase enough desktop or laptop computers for the largest class in each building. This would mean Chatham would have to purchase a total of about 300 laptops, and Ms. Nuciforo said computers that meet the state’s specifications would cost $180,000. Her proposal was to use the unallocated fund balance when online testing is required and not work the cost into this year’s budget.
Ms. Nuciforo said that though she would consider computer requirement an unfunded mandate, the state sees it as guidance on purchasing school technology for the 21st century. She said she agrees with the state’s plan but finds the timeline “challenging.”
“This was a direction we were already going,” she said, “but we weren’t planning on going this quickly.”
Board members agreed that it would be better not to include the computer cost in the upcoming budget but wait so the district can use the unallocated fund balance to purchase laptops when they are needed.
“I’m sensitive to spending down the rainy day fund,” said board member David O’Connor. “But we’re not making anything on our cash right now. We’re losing to inflation.”
He added that an extra $180,000 in the budget could greatly affect the tax levy.
“We really should wait,” said board member Michael Clark.
Board member James Marks agreed, saying that it would be best to find out more about whether the schools could accommodate the use of all the extra laptops.
Elementary School Principal Kristen Reno also made a budget proposal to the board. She said that the school began an after-school homework help program this year, but the response was so overwhelming they had to limit the number of students to 35. Her proposal for the new school budget calls for two teachers to stay after school for three days a week, which would mean the program could accommodate about 100 students.
Mr. Clark said it was a great idea but it would be difficult to find the funds in the budget.
Ms. Reno suggested funding could come from federal Title 1 grant money if there are Title 1 eligible students involved.
“We’re talking about a stipend for a couple teachers for a few hours a week,” added Ms. Nuciforo, “so it’s not a lot of money.”
Also at the February 12 board meeting:
•Ms. Nuciforo gave an update on the district facilities study. She said that a facilities committee took the feedback from the focus group meetings and provided the district with recommendations going forward to improve communication with the public regarding the Middle School closure option. These suggestions include holding another town hall meeting to give an overview of the whole study, similar to the first two the district held in August and September.
The district will also send students home with a survey for parents and a newsletter about the facilities study the week before the final town hall meeting in June. The board is scheduled to make a decision on the fate of the Middle School building June 25
•Mr. Clark said that the board is tabling the bus idling policy for now. The policy would have required bus drivers to turn off the engines while sitting, except in certain circumstances such as keeping the bus heated in cold temperatures. But Mr. Clark said he found that this is not a state requirement.
There will be a town hall style meeting regarding the facilities study Tuesday, February 26 in the High School Auditorium at 6:30 p.m. The subject discussed will be the 7-12 program and the present options available for consolidation.
The next board meeting will be a workshop on March 5 at the High School Library at 6:30 p.m.