School budget surplus to buy technology

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NAUGATUCK — When Board of Education members began debating what they needed to cut from the school budget, one line item they held on to was technology.

The board originally sought $504,000 for 900 Apple iPads, $27,000 for the electronic textbooks, and approximately $30,000 for new cameras.

“If we start taking hits on technology, we will start losing the edge we need to prepare for the future,” said board member Dorothy Neth-Kunin during a budget workshop earlier this year.

When the time came to make the final decisions as to what had to come out of the proposed budget, the iPads and cameras were cut.

However, the board did not completely abandon the hope of providing students with technology in the future.

The 2011-12 school budget had a projected $200,000 surplus as of the board’s May meeting.

Mayor Robert Mezzo, who sits on the school board, explained in normal accounting practices, the surplus is returned to the town and is put into an undesignated fund balance.

The undesignated fund balance goes towards offsetting the costs of capital projects.

This year, though, the school board is planning to put any surplus money into an account that is designated for technology.

“We haven’t gotten to the end of the year and there has been no official decision on it yet,” Board of Education Chair David Heller said last week.

Heller explained any projected surplus is still preliminary before the school year ends and the new budget has been set.

However, he remains hopeful that there will be money left over to put towards the new technology account.

Mezzo explained this account is similar to the undesignated fund account in that it will be used for one-time expenditures towards large-ticket item.

The difference is that the board knows that the large-ticket items will be technology.

Mezzo said it is projected that textbooks, as we currently know them, will not exist in the next five or 10 years. They will have become electronic and students will need electronic readers to access them.

The board members do not know what platform will be used by the students at that time, but they know they have to be prepared.

Mezzo said the technology account, like the undesignated fund balance account, should be used towards items without a reoccurring cost.

“The key factor that needs to be understood here is those dollars represent a one-time revenue source, meaning that there is no guarantee that they will exist again. If you are going to use them, they should be offset by one-time expenditures,” Mezzo said.

Mezzo equated it to winning $200 on a lottery ticket and buying clothing or a camera, which is a one time expense, rather than signing up for a cell phone plan, which would entail a reoccurring cost.

Rather than waiting to find out how much the technology and electronic textbooks will cost and then trying to find the funds for it, the school board has started saving money towards the purchase, Mezzo said.

Heller couldn’t speak to the exact source of the surplus, but believed that it had to do with the board’s accounting practices.

“We’re managing expenses very carefully and working hard to save as much money as we can,” Heller said.

Heller explained it wasn’t just the board that was saving money in the district, but everyone, from teachers, administrators, nurses and custodial staff, pitched in where they could to save money.

“Everybody is working hard to save money where they can,” Heller said.