School board chairman responds to $300,000 budget cut

If the Milford Board of Education’s budget increase wasn’t one of the “historically lowest” in years, as school officials said earlier in the budget process, it likely is now after the Board of Aldermen trimmed another $300,000 from the school spending plan for the 2014-15 school year.

The Board of Aldermen voted on the entire city budget Wednesday night, chopping more than $1 million from the plan that had been forwarded to them by the Board of Finance. The $300,000 school board reduction was among those cuts.

“It was disappointing to learn, on the night of the budget vote, that this reduction was being contemplated,” said School Board Chairman Susan Glennon. “The Board of Finance approved our budget, as presented, back in February. Further, in the days since our budget presentation to the Board of Aldermen on April 30, no indication of concern was expressed to us.”

Earlier in the budget process, the Board of Education cut School Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Feser’s budget request just over $500,000, bringing the board’s budget request to $89.51 million, which represented a .75% increase: School officials said it was the lowest they could remember.

It’s lower now, as the aldermen reduced the budget allocation for 2014-15 to $89.21 million.

At Wednesday’s final budget deliberation meeting, Republican Minority Leader Anthony Giannattasio proposed cutting $669,000 from the school board’s request. He said the board had realized savings in areas such as energy costs.

“I don’t’ think [the cut] is going to affect the Board of Education,” Giannattasio said.

Democrat Bryan Anderson disagreed, asking Giannattasio why he wanted to “flatline” the school board.

Anderson said the school board submitted a very tight budget that included layoffs. He said he would support a “reasonable” reduction, and said he heard the schools had realized about $300,000 in energy savings.

The proposal to chop the $300,000 passed by a vote of 9-6. Voting against the reduction were Aldermen Janet Golden, Martin Hardiman, Susan Shaw, Greta Stanford, Nick Veccharelli and Ray Vitali.

“Unfortunately,” Glennon said, “it seems that some aldermen were not fully aware of the work the Board of Education had already conducted and the reductions that had already been implemented in our budget, as presented.”

She said the aldermen were vague in their comments about energy savings, so she couldn’t really respond to them. But she said the board takes into account anticipated energy savings when putting its budget together, and has already reduced the energy account by $200,000 for next year.

Glennon said there is no surplus in the transportation account, which was mentioned at the aldermanic meeting, and added that the board already cut $80,000 from transportation.

That reduction has led to a decision to reduce bus runs for some students who had been riding the school bus. A number of parents have already lined up in opposition to the announcement that their children will be walkers next school year.

“Residents should know Dr. Feser initially presented the Board of Education with a budget that reflected one of the smallest percent increases in recent memory,” Glennon said. “She was able to do this through conscious reallocation of dollars – rather than requesting funds for new items, outright.”

The 2014-15 already included 15.2 fewer teachers, 14 fewer paraprofessionals and two fewer secretaries due to declining enrollment. Some will be covered through attrition, school officials said.

“The impact of a $300,000 reduction is very real and may affect the inroads we, as a district, have been making that were aimed directly at student achievement,” Glennon added. “We will work with administration in the weeks ahead to determine how best to address this further reduction forced upon us by the Board of Aldermen.”