Paraprofessional job, iPads and Chromebooks restored

Health insurance savings means more money for technology

ConVal High School students will be getting additional iPad computers next year after all, following a recent School Board decision to restore funding that had been cut after voters rejected the district’s budget proposal in March.

Because of larger than anticipated savings in the School District’s health insurance costs, board members at their June 17 meeting agreed to spend $129,000 for both iPad and Chromebook computers. The vote came after the Education Committee recommended expanding pilot programs that had been conducted at both the high school and the middle schools. Four additional carts of iPad computers will be purchased for the high school, at a cost of about $100,000, and $29,000 will be used to buy both iPad and Chromebook computers for the middle schools. The intent of the middle school purchase is to have both types of technology available at each of the two middle schools.

At the June meeting, the board also voted to restore a paraprofessional position at Francestown Elementary school, at a cost of about $40,000 for wages and benefits.

The technology purchases and the paraprofessional job had been included in the School Board’s $45.8 million budget proposal for the 2014-2015 school year in March. But when that budget was turned down, they were among the cuts recommended by the administration in order to reach a $45 million default budget.

ConVal School Superintendent Brendan Minnihan said Thursday that the School Board had asked him to prioritize the list, in order to determine what could be restored if money became available.

“These two items rose to the top of what we hoped we could put back in,” Minnihan said.

The computer purchases had been discussed at length during the budget preparation process, he said, and the School Board had agreed throughout on their importance.

Minnihan said the paraprofessional job was one that had been eliminated reluctantly when administrators were asked to make recommendations for meeting the default budget.

“It’s a person who works with a group of students in one of the classes,” Minnihan said. “The needs of the class were presented and on further reflection, we determined it was a position that’s really needed.”

Money to pay for the restored budget items will be available because the district’s rate for health insurance is dropping significantly. The district’s budget proposal was prepared in the fall of 2013 using a guaranteed maximum cost for health insurance from the district’s carrier. At the time, the district was told the maximum cost would be half a percent lower than the previous year. Any drop in costs was appreciated, Minnihan said, because the trend has been for rates to increase every year.

Then in late spring the district received its actual rate, which was an overall decrease of 5.7 percent rather than half a percent. Minnihan said savings from the rate decrease will more than cover the cost of the computers and the restored paraprofessional job.

Business Manager Marian Alese said Monday that the potential savings in health insurance could be as much as $300,000. An exact amount can’t be determined until all signups for insurance are completed, she said.

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