COVID remains a major factor in Milford school budget

Milford City Hall, Spring 2021

Milford City Hall, Spring 2021

Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD — Pandemic-related impacts have the school district’s facing larger than anticipated salary costs, according school Chief Operations Officer James Richetelli, but this fiscal year’s financial picture remains stable.

Richetelli, in his quarterly budget update to the Board of Education this week, said that while several salary accounts are nearly $1.6 million in the red, the school district still has an available balance of $1.895 million.

“The uncertainties of COVID and the additional dollars we are spending, in most cases, will be covered in various grants that we have either the ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) grant, ESSER II or ESSER III,” Richetelli said.

However, Richetelli said some line items are in the negative and there are others where a high percentage of the total funds have been used.

“We are watching some accounts closer than we usually do, and one of those accounts is the teacher salary account,” he said.

The most significant line in the budget is teachers’ salaries at $48,139,319, of which 99.72 percent has been used up so far.

“That’s much more than it usually is at this point and the reason for that is the additional four teachers that (Superintendent Anna Cutaia) talked about that we needed,” said Richetelli. “Usually, at this point in the year, that number is at a greater surplus than it is right now.”

Despite it being close, Richetelli said the administration has accounted for all of the teachers’ salaries and will be “fine” in the line item.

There is a $89,867 deficit in the certified administration salaries, but Richetelli said he planned to make it up with savings from other salaries accounts.

“The deficit in that account is because we’ve hired four retired administrators to do part-time evaluation work,” he said. “Because of the strain that is being put on the building administrators, we’ve made a decision to hire four retired administrators that help with some of the teacher evaluations that need to be done. Because with the added COVID responsibilities, there just isn’t enough time for the building administrators to devote to good evaluations.”

There is also a $290,339 deficit in the teacher substitute account because MPS has increased the per-diem pay for substitutes.

“The majority of that money will be recouped through either ESSER II or ARP (American Rescue Plan),” said Richetelli.

Richetelli told the board that most of the negative accounts or accounts using a high percentage of the funds are due to the pandemic. One of those accounts is the overtime salaries that Richetelli said can be pinpointed to the lunchroom issues this year because of the pandemic.

“We had hoped with the CDC and health department backed off a little bit on saying that things had to be sanitized because right now it’s not sanitizing all day long; it’s a routine process that needs to be done,” he said.

Richetelli said they thought the overtime salaries wouldn’t be as much because they didn’t expect to need as many custodians throughout the day as before.

“The problem is because we are eating in the classrooms, every desk still needs to be cleaned every day,” he said. “At the end of the day, there are more spills on the floor that require additional manpower. At the high schools and middle schools, we can’t use the cafeteria the way we usually use cafeterias. So we are using gymnasiums, media centers, wherever we can find a spot, and we have desks in rows, six feet apart, and that’s where students are eating lunch. That requires breaking down and setting up before lunch and after lunch every day.”

Richetelli told the board the overtime salaries are also being paid by the ESSER II and ARP grants.