Note: This story was last updated at 3:15 a.m. June 25.
Starting this fall, bus service will no longer be offered to students who live within 1.5 miles of Oak Ridge schools. The move is expected to save $500,000. It’s part of a larger effort to reduce a $1.25 million deficit.
The expansion of the “parent responsibility zone” for school transportation was the largest change approved by the Oak Ridge Board of Education on Monday. The 1.5-mile walk zone could affect 1,800 students, said Karen Gagliano, Oak Ridge Schools director of business and support services.
Other budget changes approved Monday include a delay in the purchase of textbooks, a move expected to save about $330,000, and a $123,000 reduction in the number of planned hires of technicians. The school system now expects more than $200,000 in additional revenue from state Basic Education Program funding and sales and property tax revenues.
A technology initiative known as 1:1 is no longer being considered as originally envisioned, and 2 percent pay raises for school staff members are off the table.
But the school board worked to save preschool transportation, a program that costs roughly $74,000 per year. Interim Preschool Principal Charlsey Cofer warned that cutting transportation for preschoolers could result in a drop in the number of students, which would in turn affect funding. She said about 170 students used the transportation last year out of more than 200 who were enrolled.
The five-member school board met Monday to revise the budget it had approved in May because the Oak Ridge City Council this month would not raise the property tax rate by 37 cents—or by other smaller amounts—despite a request from education officials. School officials had hoped to use the increase to start rolling out the 1:1 initiative, hire technology personnel and other staff, give employees a 2 percent pay raise, and comply with the reporting requirements of the Affordable Care Act, among other things. But the rejection of a tax increase sent them “back to the drawing board.”
The revised budget is balanced but painful, Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers said Monday.
“We’ve gone through this budget time and time and time again, and it is tight,” said Bob Eby, Board of Education vice chair.
School officials were able to use roughly $37,000 in savings from technology bids that came in lower than expected to help cover the cost of preschool transportation, and they asked Borchers to match that amount, possibly through reductions in the administrative budget but without cutting teachers and teaching assistants.
The 1:1 initiative would have eventually provided an electronic learning device for every student, possibly a Microsoft Surface tablet computer. School officials may now consider a bring-your-own-device program, although it’s expected to be more complicated because of compatibility issues between different computers and operating systems.
“Now, we have to step back and take Plan B,” Borchers said.
He said the delay in the textbook purchase means the school system might have to spend $900,000 next year.
“We’re just kicking the can down the road,” Borchers said. “This is a Band-Aid at this point.”
Officials said the state mandates that schools offer transportation from 1.5 miles and beyond. Gagliano said Maryville also has a 1.5-mile walk zone.
Oak Ridge Board of Education Chair Keys Fillauer and Secretary Angi Agle said they had not heard much from parents, if at all, about the changes to school transportation, except for preschool transportation.
Agle said board members had had to make a difficult choice between cuts that would inconvenience parents or others that could hurt the education of students.
“We’re stuck between those two bad choices,” she said.
School board members and City Council members have both proposed that they engage in budget talks earlier in the coming year.
“This needs to be a conversation, not a battle,” Fillauer said.
Here is the Oak Ridge Schools budget reconciliation chart for Fiscal Year 2015, which starts July 1:
|FY15 BUDGET RECONCILIATION|
|Budget Deficit||$ (1,250,705)|
|Increase to existing budgeted amount for .5 of Data Supervisor Position||$ 5,000||$ (1,255,705)|
|1.0 Anticipated Employee Leave||$ 75,900||$ (1,331,605)|
|BEP||$ 57,000||$ (1,274,605)|
|Sales Tax||$ 77,830||$ (1,196,775)|
|Property Tax.||$ 93,000||$ (1,103,775)|
|Transportation – 1.5 mile Parent Responsibility Zone||$ (500,000)||$ (603,775)|
|Transportation – Eliminate Preschool Transporation||$ (73,500)||$ (530,275)|
|Delay Purchase of Textbooks||$ (331,353)||$ (198,922)|
|Reduce 2.0 Technician’s||$ (123,022)||$ (75,900)|
|Reduce 1.0 CATIF||$ (75,900)||$ 0|
|Additional Positions Included AFTER changes above:|
|1.0 Benefits Specialist||$ 53,840|
|.5 CTE||$ 46,234|
|1.0 Teacher – 7th Grade||$ 75,900|
|1.0 Technician||$ 61,511|
|0.0 CATIF||$ 0|
|.5 Data Supervisor (other .5 coming from Title II)||$ 50,000|
|Total for Positions||$ 287,485|
More information will be added as it becomes available.