School budget plan calls for 1.3% increase in spending

School Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Feser this week presented a budget proposal that marks a 1.3% increase over the current year, one of the smallest increases, she said, that has been presented in the last decade.

The current budget is $88.84 million and the 2014-15 proposed budget is for $90.02 million.

“It’s very low from our perspective,” she said, adding that it isn’t an exciting budget because it primarily continues to build on improvements that started in the past few years.

Those changes and improvements revolve around moving toward Common Core Standards, which are revised nationwide standards about what a student should know at each grade level. Moving toward Common Core Standards involves rewriting curriculum and improving technology.

“Sometimes in a budget you have revolutionary kinds of things,” Feser said. “This budget is really about staying the course.”

Staying the course and continuing the current trend includes increased costs, but Feser said she tried to find savings within the budget to offset some of the increases. There are also increases proposed in several other areas of the budget: An expanded preschool, more string instruction and Advanced Placement testing.

Feser is also proposing increasing substitute teacher pay, which she said isn’t on par with what surrounding communities pay.

The plan is to increase the substitute pay from $75 to $90 a day at the elementary and middle school levels, and from $90 to $100 a day at the high school level.

That will bring Milford in line with other communities, she said.

There is also an additional $159,000 in the budget to pay for school resource officers. Last year the city and schools decided to split the cost for four trained police officers to work in the city schools, in part due to the tragic shootings in Newtown.

Feser also is suggesting spending an additional $49,908 to hire greeters for the middle schools. Last year, the school board agreed to hire greeters to work at the elementary schools, and Feser said the program has gone “very well.”

The greeters help create an inviting culture in the building and relieve the secretary of having to stop what she is doing to check visitors into the school. Feser said the program has worked so well that she wants to expand it to the middle schools.

Those extras add up to about $1.5 million, and then there are 2% teacher salary increases and a 5% rise in the transportation contract.

To help offset the increased costs, Feser has identified almost $1.8 million in savings within the budget, most notably a reduction of 32.2 staff positions.

She said staff size can be reduced because of declining enrollment, and those cuts can save $1.36 million. She is proposing the following reductions: 15.2 teaching positions; 14 para professional jobs, which will include 10 from special education and four from regular education duties; two secretaries and one sign language interpreter, which she said is not needed.

“Most of those will be through attrition,” Feser said.

The school superintendent also expects to save $200,000 in utilities, and another $50,000 in the transportation budget because all the buses Durham uses to transport Milford students will now be located in Milford. There will be a fueling station at the site, and that is expected to lower fuel costs.

Feser presented the budget plan to the media Monday afternoon, and then reviewed it with the school board Monday night.

The budget was created with the assumption that the school grade configuration in place now will remain for 2014-15, although some board members recently said they want to see the configuration change.

The board, expecting recommendations from its Long Range Planning Committee regarding grade configuration and other aspects of Milford’s public schools, seemed confident that the configuration will change but not for the 2014-15 school year. Members seemed to think it will change the following year, giving school administrators time to execute a large transition.

“The budget being brought before you is about continuous improvement and some expansion of programs,” Feser said in her closing message to the school board. “It builds on work that has been ongoing in the district. It responds to increased demand for safe school facilities and welcoming buildings. There are no sweeping changes proposed in this budget, however the budget is responsive to the positive changes occurring in public education.”

The board will review the proposal this week, including a budget workshop Wednesday and Thursday starting at 7 p.m. in the Board of Education conference room at the Parsons Government Center.

The Board of Education is expected to vote on its 2014-15 budget at a Jan. 22 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m.

This marks the beginning of the budget process, which wraps up in May. In the next few months, the Board of Finance will hold a public hearing on the proposed city and school budgets and then vote on a budget that it sees as appropriate. Next, the Board of Aldermen will take a look at the finance board- approved plan, hold another public hearing, and then review and debate until the board adopts its version — the final version — of the city spending plan for 2014-15.