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School Board Discusses Budget, Technology, School Lunch Price

by on June 10, 2014 7:10 AM

At its regular meeting Monday night the State College Area School Board discussed plans for the future, including the 2014–2015 budget and the increasing role of technology in the district's educational goals and communications.

SCASD Business Administrator Randy Brown said that salary increases and increasing health insurance rates, as two of the district’s largest expenditures, have driven much of the conversation on the school’s budget. A draft of the 2014-2015 budget was approved last month, and will appear for final consideration and adoption on the school board's June 23 budget.

Though health insurance rates for employees are increasing by 12.5%, total costs are increasing by only 10% due to fewer total individuals or families on the district’s plan. Retirement expenses are also increasing from 16% to 20% over the next year, Brown said.

Megan Schaper, the district’s food service director also addressed the board about a proposed five cent increase to the cost of school lunch and breakfast to offset increasing operation costs. Though Brown said the district’s food service operations have historically been self-sufficient, rising costs may require support to the food service operation from the district’s general fund.

Despite the proposed meal price increase, which the board will also vote on in two weeks, Shaper says a projected loss of up to $200,000 is still expected. Further increases to cost of meals may result in fewer meals purchased, meaning these increases are unsustainable. Brown said nutritional regulations also create an increased cost to food operations. 

A number of contstruction and renovation projects are on the district’s radar, with projected expenditures ranging from $62.2 to $73.2 million over the next decade, assistant business administrator Donna Watson told the board. To plan for this, the proposed budget includes roughly a $5 million annual allocation to the capital reserve fund.

To accommodate these varying expenses, the proposed budget includes a tax increase of 1.95% and a millage rate of 39.5056. Brown said that this proposed increase would mean an additional $54 in taxes for the owner of a home with an assessed value of $250,000.

The High School renovation project, which was approved by voters on May 20, is separate from this tax increase. The 7.2% increase for the renovation works out to roughly $190 for a homeowner whose property is assessed at $250,000. This money will only be used to fund the high school project.

The proposed 1.95% tax increase is the district’s second lowest since the 1998-1999 school year. Brown said that through careful management of the number of employees and use of revenue saved in the district’s fund balance, extra expenses can be effectively managed with moderate funding increases.

The final 2014-2015 budget agenda can be found here.

District Director of Technology Nicole Steele told the board that proposed technology updates are in keeping with the district’s technological and educational goals. Currently students use chromebook laptops and other devices throughout the district. Eighth graders currently have a 1:1 student-computer ratio, while the high school uses laptop carts for various subjects.

Steele said the district wants to expand to give chromebooks to all sixth, seventh and eight graders, while also expanding to a 1:1 student-computer ratio in the high school. Laptops the district owns that are nearing the end of their life cycle will be used in the 11 and 12 grades, which will be replaced with chromebooks within the coming years.

“This option provides the most consistent amount of purchases and lowers technology costs compared to the last five years,” Steele said.

Steele said that having this technology available for students increases student and teacher collaboration and will enable learning at any time and place.

SCASD Superintendent Robert O’Donnell also discussed the district’s relationship with technology by proposing to update the job descriptions for the communications director and website and social media coordinator positions. 

O’Donnell said the importance of transparency and communications became apparent during the community conversations that led up to the high school project renovation.

By moving the website and social media coordinator to a full-time position, O’Donnell said that the district will benefit from having a dedicated online position for the first time. The additional cost of a new full-time position will be offset by an upcoming retirement and the reduction of a print shop position to part-time.

Board member Jim Leous said that these communications positions will be increasingly important in maintaining the level of transparency set during the planning process of the high school project.

These updated job descriptions and technology concerns will appear on the board’s July 23 agenda.

The board also approved the Panorama Village project to go to bid, which will renovate a former elementary school to be handicap accessible and to accommodate some of the offices and functions currently located at the College Heights property.

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Michael Martin Garrett is a general assignment reporter for StateCollege.com, a graduate of Penn State and a published poet. He's also a musician who plays bass in an indie rock band.
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