'We stopped spending when we needed to' - Milford schools close budget year

MILFORD — Prudent spending combined with grant money helped Milford Public School stay within its budget this year, despite spending about $3.4 million on COVID-related expenses.

“We stopped spending when we needed to stop spending in certain areas. We took advantage of natural COVID-related savings and ended the year with a balanced budget,” said Jim Richetelli, the school system’s chief operations officer.

Richetelli gave the school board the final report on the 2020-21 COVID expenditures and revenues at its July meeting.

Overall, the Milford schools spent $3.4 million during the 2020-21school year for COVID-specific expenses such as custodian overtime, hourly aids, building repairs, custodial supplies and more. Richetelli said that amount was “over and beyond” what had been budgeted. However, the schools did receive nearly $2.5 million in added revenue specifically for COVID expenses that included the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER) grant, COVID Relief Funds grant, and the Milford Non-Lapsing Education Funds Account.

“From the general fund, we were able to save, either by natural COVID savings or deferring approximately $1.5 million that we’re covering from the general fund,” said Richetelli.

Of the roughly $1 million that came from the non-lapsing fund, the schools allocated just under $400,000 toward covering the 2020-21 expenditures.

“The board very wisely, put aside a little over $1 million from the 2019 budget and put it into the non-lapsing fund. State law allows boards of education to put up to two percent of its operating budget into a dedicated account, with the permission of the city, for a specific purpose in the future,” he said. “We’ve only spent $395,694 of that, and that’s intentional, and it’s forward-thinking because we eventually move back to our school buildings, there are going to be expenses that we have in the 2021-22 school year that have not been budgeted for.”

The remaining money in the non-lapsing fund is earmarked specifically for COVID-related expenses, Richetelli said.

“That continues through into perpetuity until the last penny of it is spent,” he said.

Richetelli also told the board that the Food Services Department had also managed to close its budget deficit, finishing the year with a small surplus. He said balancing that department’s budget had been “monumental.” Schools gave out meals free to students this year, but were reimbursed for each meal given away. Allocation of some surplus from previous budgets, plus increased demand for school meals, closed the deficit, he said.

“As you know, at one point, we were projecting a half-a-million-dollar deficit in that account,” he said.