Staffing biggest factor in 2023-24 Milford school budget proposal

Milford Public Schools

Milford Public Schools

Contributed photo/Contributed Photo

MILFORD — Though just a little more than month into the school year, administrators are already preparing for what the district needs next year and the potential fiscal challenges.

"It's September, we just opened our school doors, and we are trying to forecast what will happen a year from now in the economy and our priorities," Superintendent Anna Cutaia said ahead of the first reading of the upcoming budget priorities. The priorities will be used to craft the 2023-24 budget.

For the past two years, the budget was significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and now as the school district transitions out to a post-pandemic budget cycle, there are new factors to be considered, James Richetelli, chief operations officer, explained to the school board at a recent meeting.

"Those new factors are certainly not anything that will surprise you; high inflation, the potential for an ongoing recession, supply chain issues, continued labor shortages will become all factors to the 2023-24 budget," he said.

Some budget priorities include implementing play-based programming for preschool and kindergarten, developing library/media space that meets 21st-century student needs, and investing in upgrading facilities through long-term planning. The district is also committed to keeping the following class size guidelines: A maximum of 20 students in kindergarten to second grade and a maximum of 23 students in third grade to fifth grade.

Cutaia said they try to consider all programming in the core subjects of science, social studies and math, as well as the arts, social-emotional learning, world language and other programs when determining the curriculum needs in the budget.

"We will continue to engage in curriculum work, the expansion of high-quality instructional practices, we look forward and diversifying world language offerings in the future and are right around the corner having all of our elementary young people engaging in a world language experience," she said.

She said the district is also looking at developing and implementing a new human resources department, which will be presented in November.

"So in 2023-24, we hope to unveil a new approach to talent management, really understanding the continuous services for the about 1,300 staff members we employ," said Cutaia.

There are 13 certified positions in the 2021-22 school year paid for by funding connected to COVID. Richetelli said they had been slowly adding those positions to the general fund to avoid a funding cliff. Four positions were added in the 2022-23 budget, another four in the 2023-24 budget, and the last of the positions will be added in the 2025-26 general budget.

Enrollment experienced a slight decrease from last year but is up compared to the district's projections of 5,291 versus the actual 5,359 as of Sept. 15.

"Enrollment greatly affects staffing, and we see enrollment to continue to decline in the 2023-24 school year, but then after that, it stabilizes. That is what our enrollment demographic projections are," he said. "The enrollment looks pretty stable for the next five to 10 years."

The most significant part of the school district's budget is wages, and post pandemic and the economic climate, the administration is expecting their negotiating settlements with their unions and with nonunion employees will be slightly higher than they've been, stated Richetelli.

"We think the salaries for all employees will increase by about 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent," he said. "The state minimum wage goes up again in June to $15 an hour, so all of our hourly employees, we need to keep pace with that state increase in the minimum wage."

The cost of special education out-of-district tuition and transportation is hard to predict. Still, the school administration is anticipating a budget increase of 15 percent to 20 percent for the 2023-24 school year. In transportation, Richetelli said the costs would rise by 3 percent, reflecting the cost increases with Durham Bus., but the most significant impact is the cost of gasoline and diesel.

"The cost is double where we were at the last locked-in price with the city," he said. "At the pumps, we have seen some leveling off from where they were earlier in the year, but we know there will be an increase in fuel cost next year."

Other factors impacting the 2023-24 budget are energy prices and participation in the school resource officer program.