There wasn’t a big turnout at this year’s public hearing for the annual budget. Only about a half dozen people attended: Two asked the aldermen to keep the school spending plan intact as they make their way through the 2015-16 budget proposal; one asked them to add a bit more to the school spending plan, and one told the aldermen they need to keep a watchful eye on school spending.
Tom Jagodzinski, a former Republican Town Committee chairman who regularly criticizes school spending, got the ball rolling Wednesday night at City Hall when he reminded the aldermen that their sole job is to make sure they approve a “reasonable” spending plan for Milford’s schools.
The school board budget request stands at $91.01 million, which is a 2% increase over the current year. School officials have said they face some large expenditures next school year as they reconfigure the elementary schools from the current K-2/3-5 structure to K-5, with pre-kindergarten in some of the schools.
Jagodzinski criticized school performance and asked, “What are we getting for our money?”
He did, however, praise the Advanced Placement program at the high schools: In recent years Milford has pushed more students toward taking the college level Advanced Placement courses.
Christopher Thomas, a local parent, asked the aldermen to allocate the $91.01 million for the schools, and then some, pointing out that as the school budget request stands now, it is less than what School Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Feser initially asked for to cover the 2015-16 school year.
Feser’s initial request to the school board was for $91.17 million, a 2.19% increase over the current year. But before moving the plan along to the finance board, the Board of Education voted to cut $60,000 from the request.
The $60,000 would have made four elementary school media aides full time next school year. Now, those positions are part time.
Next in the budget process, the Board of Finance cut $100,000 from the school budget request. Most of that represented $75,000 for two additional school resource officers: The schools weren't going to get those officers anyway because the city did not fund the other half of their salaries in the city side of the 2015-16 budget request.
The other $25,000 included requested funding for The Academy, which is Milford's alternative education high school. Feser was looking for additional funds to reclassify the director's job, which is now a part teacher/part director to a full time director job.
Thomas told the Board of Aldermen at this week’s public hearing that the school board has done a good job keeping expenses level.
“I’ve never seen a superintendent try so hard to keep costs down,” Thomas said.
He said he would like to see money added to the request to pay for the media aides and to further science education.
Parent Kara Flannery addressed the aldermen and asked the board to give the school board what has been recommended so far for 2015-16 and to not make further cuts.
“This is an extremely critical year for our schools,” Flannery said, pointing out that the elementary schools will be transitioning to a new configuration next school year.
“Parents are looking to next year with a mixture of hope and anxiety,” she said.
Flannery mentioned the items that have already been cut from the superintendent’s initial plan — the full time media aides and the additional school resource officers, and she said those jobs are very important in the schools.
Flannery also told the aldermen that parents are paying attention to what they do, and they will remember how the members vote come election day.
Augie Harrigan, another local parent and leader of the Milford Education Foundation, which raises funds for educational initiatives, also asked the aldermen to keep the current school budget request intact.
It appeared that no one would comment on the city side of the budget, but Thomas, noting that there was no line, said he decided to say a few words on behalf of the Milford Public Library.
He pointed out that his wife works at the library, explaining that it has a special place in his heart, and then told the aldermen that the Milford Public Library has really started to evolve into a community gathering place. He praised the work of Christine Angeli, the new director, for picking up where retired director Jean Tsang left off in moving the library forward.
What it means to you
As it stands now, the 2015-16 budget would raise taxes by $144 on the typical house with a market value of $311,070.
Altogether, the city and school budgets total $202.18 million, which is an increase of $3.8 million over the current year, or a 1.94% increase.
Under the plan, the current mill rate would go from 27.22 mills to 27.88 mills, which is an increase of .66 mills, or a 2.4% mill increase, according to Finance Director Peter Erodici Jr.
After this week's public hearing, the aldermen will begin reviewing the individual department requests and may vote as early as May 6 on the 2015-16 spending plan.