By Holly Crocco
The Carmel School Board is expected to adopt a budget with a 1.86 percent property tax levy increase later this month.
During the April 11 board meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Business John Fink presented a budget that would have raised the tax levy 2.64 percent, which board members chipped away at until they came up with a spending plan that came in below a 2 percent increase and still maintained what it sees as valuable services.
The new proposed budget includes a new special education teacher position, a nurse, occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech therapist, bilingual psychologist at the high school, additional English Language Learner teachers at the secondary level, as well as various monitors, support for a new reading program, and staff development in diversity, equity and inclusion.
It also provides about $75,000 for athletics, including funds going toward varsity girls’ flag football, varsity boys’ volleyball, junior varsity boys’ volleyball, and merging boys’ and girls’ swimming and girls’ ice hockey, and purchasing modified football equipment.
The budget also includes $144,000 for asbestos removal at the middle school, $30,000 for facilities equipment and $50,000 for field trips.
Removed from the budget was a Committee on Special Education chairperson, new transportation software, $25,000 in athletics equipment at the secondary level and 5 percent of supply budgets across the district (with some exceptions).
However, the trustees volleyed back and forth on a couple of items.
While it was originally proposed to remove a student assistance counselor position to save $130,000, board Vice President Melissa Orser asked her colleagues to reconsider.
“We read here all day long about the mental health crisis in our country, and our county and in our community and, to me, it’s just not a position that I’m willing to cut,” she said.
Adding that position back into the budget would have brought the tax levy increase up to 2.08 percent, which is something fellow Trustee John Curzio II said he wouldn’t be comfortable with – nor would the community.
“I think we need to be very careful with being responsible to where our community is at for the budget, having to go to a vote before the community for their approval,” he said, noting that in a survey issued earlier this year, “the community already expressed they wouldn’t be comfortable with the budget in that range.”
With that, the board discussed removing one of the two proposed technology coaches, and possibly eliminating the benefits coordinator position.
Trustee Dawn hall said she could live with eliminating one technology coach, but not both. “That’s going to impact our kids directly,” she said.
Trustee Matt Morello agreed. “They really are integral team members,” he said. “As far as eliminating the program completely, or thinking the existing structures that are in place are going to be enough to serve our students, I don’t agree with that.”
Board President Debra Heitman-Cayea said she didn’t want to see the benefits coordinator position completely removed.
“I think we need a benefits coordinator, but if it’s something whereby it’s going to prevent us from getting to a consensus so we can come up with a number, I’d be willing to compromise with part-time,” she said.
While the budget puzzle was toggled between reducing this position or that, a real savings was achieved when the board revisited its bus lease/purchase plan. By reducing the number of small buses the district planned to purchase from four to one, a $173,000 reduction was achieved.
The district will still also lease 12 full-size buses, and purchase one suburban.
Fink cautioned against eliminating the purchase of all small buses, saying they “serve a very different purpose than our large buses, particularly with our increase of needs that we have district-wide, in-district as well as out-of-district.”
With one student assistance counselor, one technology coach, a half a benefits coordinator and a few less vehicles, the board gave Fink the go-ahead to draft a final $140 million budget with a tax levy increase of 1.86 percent, and using $1.1 million in fund balance, for the board to adopt at its next meeting.