School board approves superintendent's 2017-18 budget plan

The Board of Education approved school Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Feser’s 2017-18 spending plan during a board meeting last week. The board made no changes to her plan, so it will move intact to the next phase of the budget process — a review by the Board of Finance.

At $92.33 million, Feser’s proposal marks a .791% increase over the current year and is “the lowest budget increase in 15 years,” Feser said.

The spending plan calls for several new initiatives, including a more robust robotics program in the middle schools and an entrepreneurship and business management program in the high schools, as well as money for an additional school resource officer.

New spending, Feser said earlier in the budget process, will be offset by reductions, including the elimination of 10 regular teaching positions, 4.4 special education teaching positions and three paraprofessional positions.

Feser said it’s too early to tell where those positions will be cut. The reductions are largely due to declining enrollment — officials expect 183 fewer students next school year. She hopes that with retirements and teachers leaving for various reasons, layoffs can be avoided.

“That’s our hope,” Feser said when she met with reporters the day her spending plan was unveiled.

Board member Jennifer Federico praised Feser during last week’s meeting for coming in with a lean budget. There were spending increases due to contractual raises, tuition increases and new initiatives, but Feser’s budget offsets increases with cuts. “I think some administrators would have stopped there,” Federico said. But she said Feser “dug in” and then dug in again to find savings.

The board members voted to include a note to the finance board advising them of potential changes by the Department of Developmental Services that could impact the budget.

Due to state budget problems, the DDS asked the attorney general if DDS is mandated to pay for residential placements for certain students, as the department has been doing. The attorney general ruled the DDS is not responsible for paying those bills, school officials explained, adding that this could mean trouble on the local level.

“We only know it could affect us,” said School Board Chairman Susan Glennon. Milford may be required to pick up some of those costs; the impact could be significant or minimal. At this point it is not known, Glennon said.

The Hartford Courant in December reported that the DDS pays $4.4 million, or an average of $231,578 per child, for the room and board of 19 children in Connecticut. The article notes that the Department of Developmental Services did not disclose the students’ hometowns.

The articles also states that “federal law obligates school districts to cover the room and board only if living at the school contributes to a student’s educational gains.”

Concern was also raised about at least $3.3 million in state and federal grants that pay for various programs. Federico said the board should bear in mind that budget woes could lead to reductions of those funds.

The superintendent’s spending plan passed unanimously Wednesday night, but three of the 10 Board of Education members were not there for the vote. Jess Gregory, Mike DeGrego and Earl Whiskeyman were not in attendance.

Next the proposal goes to the finance board for consideration. The budget will be presented to the Board of Finance Feb. 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Parsons Complex.

After the finance board approves a dollar figure, the spending plan will move to the Board of Aldermen for review and adoption, typically in May.