Dr. Feser presents budget plan: Increase less than 1%

School Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Feser unveiled her spending plan for 2017-18 Monday. At $92.33 million it marks a .791% increase over the current year and is “the lowest budget increase in 15 years,” Feser said.

The spending plan includes 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, 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. The diminishing numbers are mostly seen at the elementary school level, so Feser predicted teacher reductions will be seen at that level.

She hopes that with retirements and teachers leaving for various reasons, layoffs can be avoided.

“That’s our hope,” Feser said.
In a prepared message to the Board of Education, which she presented to the board Monday night along with her budget plan, Feser said, “Larry Lezotte, a pioneer in effective schools, declared that there is no such thing as status quo. You are either improving or declining. Our efforts are foremost directed at improving instructional practice in the classroom, which raises the quality of learning and performance.”

Among improvements, she hopes to spend $23,400 to improve the robotics component of science programming at the middle schools. The money would pay for new robotics kits, which contain material needed for students to construct and program a robot: the current kits are more than 10 years old.

As the computer science material is meant as a pathway toward a science career, a new entrepreneurship and business management program is meant to be a business career pathway at the high school level. The program would be created with the redesign of the business labs in both high schools, using new computers, lab furniture and printers to simulate a real business setting. The cost is projected at $79,340.

Feser’s plan also calls for $32,441 for a language lab at Harborside Middle School. West Shore and East Shore middle schools already have the labs. “It is Harborside’s turn,” she says in her presentation material.

Also, Chromebooks, pegged at $35,280, for grade seven science will allow students to tap into the Internet for science resources.

The school superintendent also hopes to increase substitute pay from $75 to $90 at the elementary and middle school levels to match the high school pay. Now, it is difficult to get substitutes at the lower grade levels, she said.

There is another $165,000 in the budget this year for student tuition at the Discovery Magnet and Fairchild Wheeler magnet schools in Bridgeport, which is a new cost this year; and there is money in the plan to pay for the accreditation process at Foran High School.

In the area of security and school climate, Feser wants to hire a part-time residency/truancy officer at $25,000.

“Increasingly we are learning of students who are enrolled in the Milford Public Schools but are not residing in Milford, which is against our policy,” she said, adding that the additional students can prove costly.

She has also asked for $40,000, which is half the cost of a school resource officer. The schools now have four resource officers, which are police officers who work inside the schools. There is one at each high school, and the others split their time between the three middle schools and The Academy.

The Board of Education pays half of each school resource officer’s salary, and the other half comes from the city budget.

While new expenses total $433,861, there are also additional dollars in the 2017-18 plan to cover increased out-of-district tuition, transportation increases, salaries, which increased on average 3.0 to 3.5% including contractual step increases. Also, health insurance is estimated to increase by 8 to 10%, school officials said.

Those increases are offset by savings of nearly $1.5 million in Feser’s budget plan. They come from the staff reductions, an 18% reduction in educational supplies, and anticipated electricity and gas savings.

Dr. Feser presented the plan to the school board Monday night and shared it with the press Monday afternoon. There will be budget workshops this week, and then the board is expected to vote on and adopt a spending plan Jan. 18.

From there the plan will move to the Board of Finance for review and then to the Board of Aldermen.