Zachary school district expects surplus

The Zachary Community School District may finish the fiscal year June 30 with a hefty operating surplus, and its staff is floating ideas for using some of it.

Finance Director Gordon Robertson came to a Finance Committee meeting Wednesday with news that the current budget had an operating surplus of $4.2 million as of March 31.

Robertson said sales tax collections are $1.7 million over budget after seven months of collections, probably because of taxes paid on materials used in a Georgia-Pacific Corp. expansion at its Port Hudson mill.

The interest paid on school system investments also is $75,000 over budget, with the interest rate averaging 3.0275 percent, Robertson said.

The School Board had collected 82 percent of its anticipated revenues with three months left in the fiscal year, and expenditures were $850,000 less than budgeted, Robertson said.

The committee was unable to make recommendations because it lacked a quorum, but Robertson and other central office staff made eight suggestions for using some of the anticipated surplus.

They ranked the purchase of 400 laptop computers, for an estimated $400,000, and 125 tablet computers, at $125,000 as two possible high priorities.

District spokeswoman Adonica Duggan said the district is considering buying laptop carts for the core content areas — English and language arts, math, science and social studies — at Zachary High School’s Ninth Grade Academy.

“This will allow teachers to embrace a more blended learning environment and allow us an additional 400 computers to use for testing purposes. We are also planning to purchase iPads for use primarily by the science classes at Zachary High,” she said.

A blended learning approach combines teacher-to-student classroom methods with computer-mediated activities, rather than using online materials to supplement classroom instruction.

The state is switching to new, national content standards and will begin using tests designed by a 24-state consortium in 2014-15 that students must take on computers that meet minimum standards set by the state for online testing.

The staff also may recommend using some of the surplus to start a fund for materials and supplies needed to implement the new Common Core Curriculum, buy new equipment and supplies for school nurses, including several more automated external defibrillators for coronary emergencies; and extra textbooks.

The district’s current school construction budget, funded by a $40 million bond issue approved in 2010, will need about $1.9 million to finish the last project on the list, a gym and additional classrooms at Copper Mill Elementary School.

The School Board may elect to use some of the expected surplus for the project, Robertson and other administrators said.