Salem school board approves $10.44 million budget

Salem — After receiving revised information on health insurance costs, the Board of Education voted unanimously Monday night to approve a $10.44 million school budget.

The budget reflects a 1.01 percent decrease from the approved budget for the 2017-18 school year. The Board of Finance will review the budget at its March 8 meeting.

The decision came a week after the board was expected to approve Superintendent Joseph Onofrio II's proposed budget of $10.36 million, which would have been a 1.77 percent decrease from the previous year. Members voted to wait a week before making a final decision after initial projections for school staff health insurance showed a 13 percent increase, nearly double the 7 percent increase the board had budgeted.

The district office is continuing to work with the insurance broker to solidify rates but was able to confirm that the 13 percent increase would be the highest possible cost. Because the final rates will not be available until after the budget is approved by the town, the board chose to budget a 10 percent increase.

The approved budget also included adding $43,666 in technology purchases that had been scheduled for the 2019-20 budget. Board member and former Chairman Mike Siebert proposed the addition to the budget, which passed unanimously.

He said the major savings seen this year, in the form of an unusually small incoming freshman class at East Lyme High School and reduced out-of-district costs for special education students, won't last once bigger classes rise through the grades. Putting the next set of technology upgrades in the budget now would help offset inevitable tuition increases later.

School information technology specialist Sharon Osga-Duggar gave a short presentation to the board on the slated upgrades. The 2018-19 budget, initially set at $59,036, included the purchase of Chromebooks to bring grades five through eight to a one-to-one student-to-technology ratio and laptops to replace off-warranty machines in grades three and four as well as the administration.

The 2019-20 scheduled upgrades that would be moved to the upcoming school budget included iPads and more Chromebooks to bring grades one through eight to a one-to-one technology ratio, as well as projectors, interactive whiteboard setups and additional robotics kits. Osga-Duggar showed a video of middle school students working with the school's existing Edison robots, using light sensors and programming to guide the robot cars through a maze.

These purchases would put Salem students at the "top of the mountain" in terms of computer programming education relative to their peers, she said.

a.hutchinson@theday.com

Editor's Note: This corrects an earlier version.

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