Board members approved a new fiber-optic network project to connect every school to the district's network

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FARMINGTON – The Farmington school board has approved a budget for the upcoming school year along with a new fiber-optic network project that will be connected to every school in the district.

During their meeting on Thursday, Farmington Municipal School District board members adopted a budget of about $74.75 million for the 2016-2017 school year. That represents a decrease of about $3.35 million from this year’s budget of $78.1 million, according to district Chief Financial Officer Randy Bondow.

Superintendent Gene Schmidt said the proposed budget was designed to not use portions of the district’s cash balance after cash reserves were used to balance the budget for the three previous years.

“We have to confront the reality of building a budget that puts the district in a position where revenues match expenditures,” Schimdt said.

The district is still looking to cut about $4.35 million for the upcoming school year due to a decline in enrollment and increases in expenses. Bondow said. The district is estimating about $79.1 million in expenses next school year.

District enrollment declined by 141 students from the 2014-2015 total to the current school year, Bondow said. That meant a loss in state funding for the district of almost $1.7 million.

The district is looking to make up the budget deficit by not filling positions or eliminating them as employees retire and resign over the next few months, Schmidt said.

As positions are vacated, the district is evaluating if the responsibilities associated with those jobs can be shared with current employees or eliminated from the budget, according to Schmidt. That could lead to increasing class sizes, and potentially relocating teachers and staff members to other schools within the district.

Board members also awarded a $1.4 million contract to Network Cabling to install new fiber-optic lines for schools not currently on the district's fiber-optic network. The new fiber-optic lines will connect the 15 district buildings and schools currently not connected to the district’s fiber network, said Charles Thacker, the district's executive director of technology.

Eleven schools on the east side of Farmington handle network and Internet traffic through leased microwave towers that cost about $200,000 annually. Some of those schools include Piedra Vista High, McCormick Elementary, Heights Middle and Country Club Elementaryschools.

“It opens up whole new avenues to deliver content to more remote locations,” Thacker said.

Thacker believes the district will initially receive about 80 percent of the funding for the project from E-rate, and if the state contributes 10 percent, E-rate could match the state’s 10 percent to fully pay for the construction costs. The federal program provides discounted telecommunications, Internet access. and internal connections to eligible schools and libraries.

The project will now be submitted to the Universal Service Administrative Company for approval. The organization facilitates the E-rate program for the FCC.

If the project is approved, the time to construct the fiber network could take about 90 to 200 days, Thacker said.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.

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