Switch to full virtual learning decreases projected expenses in Milford

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Milford Board of Education Virtual Special Meeting

Milford Board of Education Virtual Special Meeting

MGAT Education

MILFORD — The recent switch Milford high schools and middle schools made to 100 percent remote learning through Jan. 8 will save the schools an estimated $200,000, according to Jim Richetelli, chief operations officer for Milford Public Schools.

Richitelli told the Board of Education at its meeting Monday that the projected COVID-19 expenses are now projected at $3.5 million, down from the $3.7 million he estimated at the board’s October meeting.

There are a number of reasons for the reduced expenses. One of them is the lack of available substitute teachers, Richitelli said.

“In the substitute teacher line, when we began this report, we were hoping to have 24 building subs,” he said. “We really only have nine or 10 building subs. But for now, we are going to carry 16 subs through the end of the year.”

In the past month, this is a reduction of about $178,000 in substitutes, he said.

“That reflects the shortage of substitute teachers — not only in Milford but throughout the country,” he said.

Additionally, with the closing of school buildings, there will be less need for custodial temporary help.

“We will use less custodial overtime [and] less isolation room monitors,” he said.

But for the first time, the food service account is now projected to run a $478,000 deficit this year.

Although the schools provide breakfast and lunch free to all students, the federal government reimburses the expense based on meals served. Fewer students eating school meals means fewer federal dollars, Richitelli said.

“The problem we are having is making sure the students take those meals,” Richitelli said. “The food service department is coming up with creative ideas on how we can get advertise more but also get those meals into the homes of the students.”

From October, 2019 to October, 2020, the number of breakfasts served is up 42 percent, a rate Richitelli described as “excellent.”

This October, Milford schools served 3,000 more breakfasts than it did last October. But lunch service declined 36 percent, Richitelli said. Also, a la carte sales, which are reimbursable sales outside of the full school meals, is down 83 percent.

“All of that together, combined with the fact that we’re still paying our employees even though we are now in distance learning, lends itself to a deficit,” he said.

From a continuity perspective, paying employees through the pandemic is key, Richitelli said.

“At some point, we’re going to go back and we’re going to need those people, and if we’re not paying them or if we’re paying them drastically reduced amounts, we may lose them and we don’t want that to happen,” he said.

As the schools shift back toward full distance learning, the schools will revert to its summer meal distribution, where any student can get 14 free meals each week, he said.

But all these factors have had the result of pushing the food service budget just under a half-million dollars into the red, he said.