Milford school board backs $106M budget for 2023-24

Milford Public Schools.

Milford Public Schools.

Contributed photo/Contributed Photo

MILFORD — The Board of Education approved a proposed $106.4 million budget for the coming fiscal year, with the proposal now heading to Mayor Ben Blake's desk.

The proposed budget for the 2023-24 school year passed with a 9-1 vote down party lines.

"I know it's not easy deciding what does and doesn't get included year after year, but I think you found the sweet spot that honors our commitment and allows us to keep on moving forward," said Board Chair Susan Glennon.

Andrew Fowler, the lone Republican, voted against the budget. In an email to Hearst Connecticut Media after the meeting, Fowler cited the significant percentage increase from the present year's total. While he understands most of it is driven by contractual obligations, Fowler said other parts of the budget concern him.

"First and foremost, I believe in budgeting with the taxpayer in mind. Right now, Milford families are facing rising costs in almost every facet of managing their household expenses — from increased prices at the grocery store to increased utility bill costs," Fowler said. "As they are being forced to make hard decisions and cut back, so should we."

Other board members spoke out about the budget during the meeting.

"When you look at the initial 4.39 percent increase, it's a little higher than we have seen in other years," said board member Emily McDonough Souza. "The vast majority of it is fixed cost. Special education costs, salary increases, benefit increases, and compiling with the state requirements. So in that regard, it is quite a lean budget."

Making up the majority of the $106.4 million proposed budget is teacher salaries and benefits. The proposal lists $75 million for teacher salaries, a $3.1 million increase from the current budget. Benefits account for $6.5 million, about $300,000 more than the current budget.

"Teachers' salaries and benefits normally take up 70 to 80 percent of the budget for any school district," said Superintendent of Schools Anna Cutaia. "For us in this budget cycle, it takes up 77.36 percent of the budget."

The schools will also enter the first year of a new three-year teacher contract, Cutaia said.

"The impact of the new contract in the first year is an increase of $1.6 million, representing 1.53 percent of our total increase," she stated.

Board member Adam De Young said he was going back and forth on how he would vote on the budget because of the 0.18 increase going toward system improvements.

"I felt like our community can do better than that because system improvements drive our schools along with staff and benefits," he said. "Then I started to think about it, and I think it misrepresented the system improvements because 0.18 percent went to what you would typically consider system improvements. But the counselors were mentioned, which is a huge system improvement."

This is the second year the district is moving school counselors from being covered by the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief grant into the general budget. 

Cutaia said the schools are moving four elementary school counselors and one supervisor for equity and engagement.

"This is the second year of a three-year shift from the ESSER grant to the general fund," she said, adding there are still four more counselors on the ESSER 2 grant, which ends in July 2024.

"While the percent increase is larger than what we would ideally like, it is a number that is absolutely necessary," said board member Cindy Wolfe Boynton. "There are so many aspects of this budget we can't control because of fix cost items, yet despite that, we have been able to create a budget that not just meets and takes care of the things we must and need to include, it also moves us forward."

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Andrew Fowler made his comments in an email after the meeting and to remove the incorrect statement that the budget included funding for flex furniture.