Health care and technology were the topics of conversation at the Thursday, March 13, meeting regarding the Guilderland Central School District 2008-09 budget. The 25-member Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee met to review aspects of the budget with school officials who were on hand to field questions.
The $84 million budget brings with it an estimated tax-increase of 1.54 percent. It’s the smallest tax hike the district has seen in at least 15 years, although the budget increases overall spending by $1.8 million over the current year’s spending plan.
Mandated school costs for retirement systems for both teachers and other workers are down, saving the district roughly $550,000. However, social security and worker’s compensation contributions cost the district an additional $138,591. The largest burden is the growing price for providing healthcare, costing the district an additional $555,000 over the previous year’s spending. The district picks up 80 percent of the cost of health insurance for employees and retirees, while the employees and retirees pay the remaining 20 percent. There are 800 active members and 276 retirees enrolled in the four health insurance plans offered by the district.
Compared to other Suburban Council schools, we are significantly below average in terms of district contributions, said Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Susan Tangorre. Some surrounding districts pay up to 91 percent of the cost of health insurance, according to statistics provided by the district. Some committee members questioned why the district offers so many healthcare options.
`We are certainly not obligated to give four options, but what we do try to give people are choices, we think it’s important to give choices,` said Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders, who added people living in certain areas, and in certain age brackets, tend to favor one healthcare option over another.
`I think when we talk about health insurance we need to remember there are people behind those numbers, some of them healthy and some of them not so healthy,` said Tangorre.
Technology improvements are slated for all of the district’s schools, with a budget totaling $947,193, an increase over last year’s spending by $81,936. Of that amount, nearly $400,000 will be spent on seven positions within the technology department.
At the elementary schools, four laptop carts serve as mobile `computer labs` allowing students to utilize technology in the classroom.
`The only way we can get enough access for teachers to do projects and things like that, is to push the computers into the rooms,` explained Chief Technology Specialist Joe Laurenzo. `The problem that we do have is an access problem. We’re trying to spread them out (in grades) K through five.`
Some of the computers are beginning to fail, said Laurenzo, while others are no longer under warranty. The district has proposed 125 new laptops with wireless access be purchased at a cost of nearly $173,000. The old computers will be used for parts and recycled, said Laurenzo.
`Would a computer lab model be more appropriate at some point and would that also give kids access after school?` questioned committee member Timothy Burke.
`Basically there’s no space within the elementary schools to even carve out a decent size room,` said Laurenzo, who estimated the cost of creating a computer lab to be between $75,000 and $80,000 `just to build the room, and we just don’t have the space for it.`
At the middle school, the district has proposed 40 new computers be purchased for the existing technology education lab, with a price tag of roughly $36,000.
`This lab right now is four years old,` said Laurenzo. `Just like all of our other labs we try to refresh those labs, the hardware doesn’t keep up, they get old, and in this case they’re being used by every single sixth, seventh and eighth grade student.` The district also hopes to purchase four multimedia presentation carts for $21,500. Technological upgrades for the art, physical education, and reading departments are also planned.
At Guilderland High School, technological improvements include the purchase of a new server, 25 new computers, nearly a dozen printers, four digital cameras and other supplies at an estimated cost of $42,000.
The next Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee meeting will be held Thursday, March 20, at 7:30 p.m.
The meeting will be broadcast on Time Warner Cable channel 16.“