Supt. Victor Mercurio presented a $34.7 million budget for 2014 to the School Committee Tuesday night, an increase of $1.1 million – 3.2 percent – over the current year. The School Committee must approve a budget to go to the Town Council by March 15.
The increase to the town – to taxpayers – would be 2 percent, due to a proposed $500,000 increase in state aid as well as revenue sources, including tuition.
The primary budget increases are for salaries ($218,097) and benefits ($560,778). The teachers contract expires June 30 and included in Mercurio's budget are non-negotiable step increases. Committee Chair David Green refused to say there was money built into the proposed budget for raises, but he did say there could be money available.
"We are prepared to discuss compensation with the teachers and have the resources to deal with whatever fruits come out of that conversation probably consistent with what we've done with the other bargaining units," he said. He noted they could, for instance, tap the fund balance "for those expenses that were not covered or not anticipated in the operating budget."
The proposed budget includes money for reconfiguration, the plan to move third grade classes from Meadowbrook and Frenchtown to Eldredge and Hanaford. Administration official Mary Ann Crawford said at a meeting Feb. 5 that reconfiguration would cost $20,000, to cover the cost of a part-time physical education teacher.
The budget does not include money for the proposal to equip every student at East Greenwich High School with an iPad. The total cost of the one-time purchase of iPads for the entire school would be $650,750 – including the iPads themselves, protective casing, professional development for teachers, and one full-time and one half-time staff member to support the endeavor.
The School Committee has yet approve the so-called 1:1 proposal. According to Mercurio (see video, attached), research into what iPads for every student would cost was a necessary first step. He also suggested a costly effort such as this will require looking at different funding sources.
"It's also going to be able to give us the opportunity ... to talk to lots of different people, our friends on Smith Hill, to say, 'This is an important initiative for us. We need some dollars here. Maybe you can help us with that,'" said Mercurio.
"In other states where this initiative has taken place, they have different funding sources that they can use to be able to do this," he said. "And they've taken advantage of that, while being mindful that equity and access is still a key issue."