Some Milford school projects delayed in $99.7M budget

The MIlford Board of Education discusses Superintendent Anna Cutaia's 2021-22 budget proposal at one of its January budget workshops.

The MIlford Board of Education discusses Superintendent Anna Cutaia’s 2021-22 budget proposal at one of its January budget workshops.

Zoom screen capture

MILFORD — The Board of Education approved a budget members said meets the needs of the city’s students, but puts off most of their wants.

“I think the administration has had to make difficult choices,” board Chairman Susan Glennon said. “I’m confident this administration knows what’s needed.”

The board decided in a 9-1 vote last month to approve Superintendent Anna Cutaia’s $99.7 million proposal. It’s a decision board member Andrew Fowler opposed, citing a continuing trend of rising costs and declining enrollment projections.

“Next year, we could be here (over) $100 million,” he said. “It’s important for future boards to have honest and tough conversations and tackle the issue, but not at the expense of students and their well-being.”

Board member Adam De Young also expressed disappointment in the budget, but for a different reason. De Young rejected the idea that the budget was fiscally responsible, instead characterizing it as “fiscally conservative” and saying that should not be the board’s mission.

“We were sent here to invest in our kids,” he said. “We need to keep that in mind as we continue to look at future budgets.”

De Young said the time was seemingly never right to invest in education.

“I’ve been on the board for four years, and for four years I’ve heard that economic times were very difficult,” he said. “No doubt there are challenges facing our city and our residents, but it also is imperative that we educate our kids and invest in our kids, and it’s critical that we do so.”

Fowler was the lone vote against passing Cutaia’s budget.

The budget that the board approved represents an increase of 2.25 percent over the current year.

“This budget represents hopes and dreams for our students and staff that were unrealized in the 2020-2021 school year due to needing to put things ‘on hold’ because of our district’s response to the pandemic crisis,” Cutaia wrote in her budget letter.

“Many program improvements and new initiatives were deferred because of the unanticipated costs related to opening schools under strict health and safety guidelines due to COVID-19,” Cutaia wrote. “This proposal continues to move our school district forward with essential program improvements yet is mindful of economic conditions facing our community.”

The budget proposal includes funds to expand the world language program to third grade, meaning Milford students now have a four-year (K-3) elementary program. Cutaia also included funding for upgrades to the district’s science curriculum and science labs at the elementary and secondary school levels.

But like the current budget, next year’s proposal also puts off numerous improvements, Cutaia wrote.

“The renovation of the Foran school library will need to be done but will be put on hold and will likely take two phases of work,” she wrote. “As with Jonathan Law’s library, we plan to make it a more 21st century learning space to better meet student learning needs.”

The 2021-22 budget also delays adding green screens for video productions to the elementary schools, cameras and camcorders for journalism, art and business classes at the high schools, interactive display panels for district-wide art and music programs, and curriculum revisions in middle school and high school language arts, elementary school counseling programs, middle school health, elementary school literacy and social studies and career education at the middle school level.

Glennon, in her own comments to Milford’s municipal leaders, said she hoped the programs that were put off would come to fruition in future years.

“The board is resolute in our shared belief that we must continue the momentum on the path towards being a forward-thinking district that is aligned with 21st century learning expectations, even if it must be with baby steps for now,” she wrote. “We believe this budget proposal accomplishes this, and demonstrates a balance between fiscal responsibility and support for core instructional programs while addressing the unique situation we find ourselves in.”

deng@trumbulltimes.com