School officials scaled back the rollout of a digital technology initiative that would provide every student with an electronic device before approving a budget that could require a 37-cent tax increase to avoid cuts in staff or programs.
It could be one of the largest requests for a property tax rate increase in recent years. But it’s not clear if city officials, who have been working toward a no-tax-increase budget, will agree to any rate hikes.
The Oak Ridge Board of Education passed the budget for Fiscal Year 2015, which starts July 1, in a 5-1 vote on first reading on Wednesday. The vote came after amendments were made based on discussions by the school board on Tuesday night.
Board member Dan DiGregorio cast the lone vote against the proposal on Wednesday. DiGregorio said he couldn’t support a reduction in staff or more programs to make up for the tax increase, should the city not approve it. The board will ask the city for a tax increase of $0.37, down from the original proposed increase of $0.42.
Mike Mahathy, a member of the audience who addressed the board, agreed with DiGregorio, but insisted that he will still support the decision to pass the proposal.
“I’m a supporter and I will help you, but just make sure you know what you’re getting into,” Mahathy said.
Board member Bob Eby said he hopes the city will listen to the board and understand why the money is needed for the school system to remain competitive, as neighboring districts in Lenoir City and Maryville have already implemented 1:1 device integration in their school systems.
The 1:1 initiative would mean that every Oak Ridge student would have a electronic device to use both at home and at school.
The budget’s required revenue was reduced overnight by about $500,000, to $3.3 million. The reduction comes after the proposed device integration was scaled back. It is now planned for a middle school rollout instead of full K-12 integration throughout the district. An additional $1.1 million would be necessary for full integration.
The board agreed that successful rollout is necessary to ensure that full integration of the 1:1 initiative will be possible in the future.
“We need to do this as well as we can at the middle school level so that we can tell the community we’ve done this and that we’d like to expand,” Superintendent Bruce Borchers said
The second and final reading of the proposed budget is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the School Administration Building. Then, the board will present its proposal to the Oak Ridge City Council during a June 2 meeting.
Sara Wise is a freelance contributor to Oak Ridge Today.