School board adds Chromebooks, OKs budget

After finding some savings and adding some computer gear, the Board of Education adopted a budget that would raise spending to , 2.22% from $52,109,919 to $53,267,988.

The Board of Education added $96,410 worth of Chromebooks — inexpensive laptops that rely on Internet services to fully function — to the superintendent’s proposed budget Monday. Aside from the additional technology spending, the board didn’t substantively change the plan Superintendent James Agostine proposed in December.

Agostine’s plan would have raised spending some 2.63%, but he cited some painless cuts that came up after he submitted his initial spending plan that would bring it down further.

That brought his would-be increase to 2.4%.

Agostine said cutting money — which turned out to be some $111,000 — out of the energy budget was possible was because the administration had not cut enough in Honeywell-related savings.

“Honeywell recommended that we budget $910,000 in total energy,” Agostine said at a previous meeting.

“We thought that that was for the four schools [at which Honeywell did energy work] so we built that $910,000 and then we added some natural gas for Monroe Elementary we feel that we’re probably going to peel that money back out.”

After meeting with the Board of Finance, he recommended pulling $111,000 more out, which the school board did.

The school board also cut $196,000 in staffing costs due to retirements because Agostine announced the final figure after submitting his budget to the board. That would have brought the plan to 2.04%.

The Board of Education didn’t feel Agostine’s spending plan was aggressive enough in replacing some aging computers.

Many of the computers run Windows XP, which will become unmaintainable when Microsoft discontinues support for it — no longer releasing software updates, which, among other things, fix security holes.

Jack Zamary, who runs IT for the town and schools, sought some $25,000 in emergency spending over the summer to replace a number of town computers running XP, and said another $17,000 in subsequent budgets would get the computers on a regular replacement schedule which had been long abandoned.

Zamary said the town computers, which handle things such as taxes, were a higher priority than the school district computers and the school district computers could be replaced during the normal budget cycle.

The school board requested Jack Zamary, the head of IT and facilities, prioritize computers for replacement, and Monday voted replace the first tier “priority 1” machines with Chromebooks.

Chromebooks are relatively inexpensive laptop-like devices that depend heavily on the Internet to function. They don’t have the mainstream Windows operating system and Microsoft Office suite of applications such as Word and Excel, but they also don’t have the associated licensing costs that go with that software. Instead they run Google software.

A Chromebook costs the district $280, whereas a reading lab desktop costs $650, according to Zamary.

Some board members wanted to add even more Chromebooks.

Lee Crouch suggested adding $180,000 worth of computers.

Crouch asked Zamary if making a bigger dent would have a positive impact in education.

He said that would “definitely have an impact on teaching and learning. The availability [of] the technology has an impact on what we’re able to do for the kids.”

A lot of computers are required in part because new standardized tests will be done completely on computers, which could require moving computers from school to school as the tests are taken at various grade levels.

At the same time, the district made a push to “BYOD” or “Bring your own device” that may eventually ease some of the demand for computers if students bring in their own computers and other devices.

Both the Chromebook concept and the BYOD push operate on the theory that it matters less and less what device a student or teacher is using as long as it can run the software, which, more and more just means having an Internet connection.

The school board ultimately voted not to add Crouch’s additional $180,000 for Chromebooks but did approve the $96,410.

Budget process

The town charter lays out a timeline for the the budget process. These milestones must be reached by these dates, but may be reached sooner. Now that the superintendent has proposed his budget and the school board has approved it, here’s what’s left:

• Feb. 8 — The first selectman’s budget is to be delivered to Town Council. Between this date and Feb. 28, a public hearing must be held on the budget.

• Feb. 28 — The budget reflecting any Town Council changes is due to be sent to the first selectman and Board of Finance.

• March 21 — The budget reflecting any Board of Finance changes is due to the first selectman.

• First Tuesday in April — The annual budget referendum is held. This year, it’s April 1.

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