'Our best guess estimate' - Milford schools revise COVID budget

MILFORD — The COVID-19 pandemic led to a shortage of substitute teachers as school districts scrambled to find replacements for teachers that opted out of in-person teaching. A side effect of the sub shortage is that it helped the bottom line a little, according to school Chief Operations Officer Jim Richetelli.

The current projected COVID expense for substitute teachers for the 2020-21 school year is now about $384,000. That’s down from about $427,000 last month.

“At the September meeting, we based our projection on that we’d have a full complement of substitutes, and we’d have them for the whole year,” Richetelli said. “Now that we have three or four weeks more experience, we know that we haven’t been able to hire as many substitutes as we would like and so that’s why that projection has changed there.”

However, an expense that’s running higher than last month’s projections is custodial overtime. Richetelli anticipates the district will probably spend about $660,000 on custodial overtime, whereas at the Sept. 29 meeting, this projection was $619,000.

This change is due to the district not being able to hire enough temps to cover all the days they’re needed - and instead, having the permanent custodial staff work overtime.

“We’re spending more money on custodial overtime and less money on custodian temps,” he said. “We are covering all of the schools for what we need the custodians to do during the pandemic and during the protocols that we have.”

“So, it’s a balance,” he added. “We will spend less overall for custodial help because we’re not going to use the temps for the full eight hours that we originally thought we were going to need them for, and the four hours that we’re going to need them at night.”

Coronavirus Relief Funds

Milford also got some budget relief with the state now allowing school districts to reallocate how their Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) grant money can be spent. Milford will most likely be able to use every dollar of its grants, according to Richetelli.

“That’s a positive change on the revenue,” he said. “No additional money, but just how we can spend it and how we can best utilize it.”

The Board of Education is in the process of going back into its initial estimated COVID-19 expenses and changing what it originally calculated for the CRF, based upon original state guidelines. In the past month Milford schools spent $821,000 on COVID-related expenses, bringing the total spent to date to about $1.38 million.

“A lot of the funds that we spent during the summer, we’re just getting billed for now,” Richetelli said. “So that’s why the number is so much higher than what we spent as of the September report (about $561,000). But everything is moving along there.”

Projected expenses

Total projected COVID expenses for the 2020-21 school year is now $3.78 million, which is $54,000 more than the September projection.

“That’s just based upon another two or three weeks of experience where we see the bills coming in and how we project it will be going out,” he said.

According to Superintendent Anna Cutaia, the newest projections are “our best guess estimate as of this today.”

“The unpredictable nature of this pandemic will play into the numbers by the end of June,” she said, adding this takes into account the uncertainty as to whether there will be school full-time or part-time.

“These numbers can go up or down,” she added.