The Oak Ridge school board devoted most of its Tuesday night meeting to reviewing the proposed budget for next year, but members haven’t voted on it yet. Instead, the board has asked school administrators to bring back a budget that has a smaller rollout of a technology initiative known as 1:1, and the discussions will resume Wednesday evening.
The board agreed that the 1:1 integration is necessary, but they had reservations about how exactly to roll out the electronic devices to students. Several board members said they support the addition of the new technology, but they are unable to completely stand behind the changes because of the costs.
Board members spent nearly two hours going through expenditures Tuesday and discussing the changes they thought were needed before they would feel comfortable sending the budget to the Oak Ridge City Council.
“It includes some things that I’m not sure I’m ready to support,” said board member Jenny Richter. She suggested implementing a rollout among a smaller number of students at first so that “we can learn from our own experience and meet the whole thing halfway.” She said she could support the budget with modifications to the technology initiative.
Oak Ridge Board of Education Chair Keys Fillauer was most interested in keeping the budget in its current form and sending it to the City Council for approval.
“I think it’s a serious mistake if we don’t get the engine running on technology,” Fillauer said. He said he would still be satisfied with a smaller rollout, but he emphasized that doing nothing would be a grave mistake.
Board member Robert Eby echoed the calls for a smaller rollout.
“I think it’s important we do something bold,” he said.
Superintendent Bruce Borchers said he thinks there would be no harm in sending the budget, as is, to the City Council saying, “It doesn’t hurt to ask.”
Richter, on the other hand, felt it certainly would hurt to ask for approval on the budget. If the board brought the budget to the city in its current form, Richter said, it would not be approved due to the hefty price tag it carries.
While there are various expenditures being considered in the budget proposal, the most costly are those involved with the 1:1 device integration and assorted costs needed to comply with the federal Affordable Care Act.
Additionally, the budget could provide a 2 percent increase in teachers’ wages across the district.
The Tuesday night meeting included a public forum. Several members of the community approached the board with concerns about the Family Resource Center, but it doesn’t seem that the board is considering cutting that program with the proposed budget.
The board instructed Borchers to bring back the recommendation concerning a smaller rollout of the technology initiative, as well as the budgetary changes that would result.
The board will meet again at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday (today) in the School Administration Building, with plans to amend the proposed budget. The second and final reading of the budget will be at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in the same location.
The school system budget will then be presented to the Oak Ridge City Council in early June. The next fiscal year starts July 1.
Sara Wise is a freelance contributor to Oak Ridge Today.