Milford superintendent proposes nearly $106.5M school budget

MILFORD — School administrators are proposing a nearly $106.5 million budget for the upcoming school year, which is nearly 4.4 percent more than the current $102 million school budget.

"This is a number larger than our community is used to seeing, and we have come to this number with great reservation," said Superintendent of Schools Anna Cutaia. "We have done everything in our power to provide a balance between what we feel our responsibility is to advocate for our young people and staff members, while at the same time, being sensitive to what we know as a community face, the post-pandemic economy."

Cutaia said she and her team had to say no to many program improvements while building the proposed budget to keep the proposed increase as low as possible. Some of those proposals included exercise bikes, iPads, additional special education staffing and digital drawing tables.

"How we build a budget is we start from zero, then we start adding and subtracting different things to keep only what is necessary," she said. "If we would put all the proposals we received for program improvements, it would've been a 14 percent increase on last year's budget."

Four areas comprise most of the 106.4 million proposed budget, the biggest being teacher salaries and benefits.

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

The proposed budget 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.

"Also, we will be entering 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."

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 fund budget.

"We are moving four elementary school counselors and one supervisor for equity and engagement," Cutaia said. "This is the second year of a three-year shift from the ESSER grant to the general fund."

There are still four more counselors on the ESSER 2 grant, which ends in July 2024.

The other three areas comprising most of the proposed budget is a nearly $330,000 increase in special education services, a nearly $312,000 increase in regular and special education transportation and fuel cost, and two new state mandates. Those mandates are evaluating HVAC systems at an estimate of $130,000 and installing menstrual cycle products dispensers in all schools for a combined $25,000.

"The four major drivers account for 4.21 percent of the 4.39 percent increase proposed in the 2023-234 school year, leaving only 0.18 percent of the increase representing system improvements," Cutaia said.

Some of those system improvements include a science-based field trip for third graders, adding a senior world language course, replacing cameras and radios for safety and security, and adding Spanish in the fifth grade, which Cutaia said will complete their effort to bring world language to all elementary school students.

Cutaia said they could offset many projects using grant funding, including View Sonic Touch Boards, special education equipment, professional development, and HVAC upgrades.

"We were able to get the Viewsonic Touch Boards at all elementary classrooms in the eight elementary schools in our district," she said. "That's a huge accomplishment for a school system."