The biggest objectives for the Collingswood school district in 2014 will be the rollout of its 1:1 technology initiative and continued progress towards state testing metrics, all while hewing close to the state minimum tax levy for the borough.
Collingswood Superintendent Scott Oswald said that after putting so much time into the ramp-up ahead of new common core and PARCC assessments, the district is "really into a groove now where there’s not a lot of new stuff.
"I think we have our fundamentals in place, and now it’s just sharpening our tools and becoming better at what we do," he said.
Chromebooks and taxes
Oswald said the public likely can expect an extensive update on the district laptop initiative as well as some preliminary budget numbers in February.
If school taxes aren't flat, they won't increase much, Oswald said.
"As much as the public doesn’t like to hear this, in Collingswood, they are at the [state-authorized] minimum [school] tax levy," he said. "If we stumbled upon a pot of gold, we couldn’t lower the taxes any more."
The average household levy in Collingswood has gone down, Oswald said, as the borough ratable base has increased. Neither services nor spending have decreased as a result, he said.
"In the last several years, we couldn’t go any lower than we did," he said.
Boiler projects, possibly a new kitchen
The biggest capital project the district will tackle this year is a boiler project for the district elementary schools, for which it has already received some state aid.
There's also a several-hundred-thousand-dollar upgrade to the high school kitchen, which serves the entire district, that is much needed and has been long deferred, Oswald said.
The district tried unsuccessfully to roll the cost of that project into its grant application for the boiler work.
"We’ve really been holding out for those grants because it gives the local taxpayers a real break," Oswald said. "We rolled the kitchen into it, and it didn’t get approved.
"Obviously, the money comes from somewhere, but we’d like to keep as much in our own pockets rather than give it out to other towns," he said.
Oswald said that the district hasn't heard about any chance of additional grants or "any other relief that will come for anything that we might do with the kitchen.
"At this point, the decision the board needs to make is, 'Do you want to go ahead with the kitchen now, and build it into the budget, or hold off if another round of grants comes in?"
He said that the kitchen, once upgraded, could conceivably function as a satellite operation for private schools that need food services.
"Oaklyn has been really successful doing that," he said. "It's not really something we do, but with a more efficient kitchen, that’s something that could be on the horizon."
No change in leadership
Little changed at the district re-organization: current board president James Hatzell and vice-president Joan Smith retained their titles. Incumbent members David Routzahn and Stephen Rydzewski rejoined the board with newcomer Timothy Farrow.
All three ran uncontested in the last election.