Dr. Feser's school budget plan calls for 2.19% hike
It will cost almost $2 million to return Milford’s elementary schools to kindergarten through grade five schools, as they were before being reconfigured in 2010.
That dollar amount alone would have sent the proposed 2015-16 budget soaring. But School Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Feser said Monday, when she presented her budget plan to local media and later to the Board of Education, that administrators found savings in other areas to offset much of the new costs.
The total spending plan for 2015-16 stands at $91.17 million, up 2.19% from the current $89.21 million budget.
Feser said it was especially challenging to create the new budget because of the costs associated with reconfiguring the elementary schools. Responding to parent pleas, the Board of Education recently directed the administration to put the schools back to a kindergarten to grade five structure.
“Some people think you just go back,” Feser said, but she added that the reconfiguration is a “very complex process.”
In addition to $75,000 in overtime costs for secretaries, custodians and maintenance workers, plus about $250,000 to pay movers, and another $40,000 to move computers, Smartboards and other technology, the reconfiguration will result in the need for more teaching staff.
Feser’s plan calls for hiring 16 regular classroom teachers and 3.5 specialists, such as music and physical education teachers, which amounts to $1.17 million.
“The additional staffing is needed as every grade level will now be housed in eight schools rather than four, and there is a loss of economy of scale,” she said.
Feser also is asking for four assistant/teacher leaders for the four elementary schools that currently do not have that position, at a cost of $70,000 each. The job frees up the principal to handle responsibilities that include work required by the new Common Core standards.
The spending plan also calls for four new media aids, for a net cost of $60,000: Part-time media aides would be replaced by full-time aides. Feser said the use of technology increases each year, and now standardized tests will be given on computers, so the positions are needed.
“The preK-5 schools to be established are not the same as six years ago,” Feser said. “For example, today there are new language arts and math curricula, computer labs, a much more robust music program, much richer classroom libraries and media centers, and expanded special education programs.”
There have been changes in the schools since 2010; so Feser said she doesn’t view the reconfiguration as “going back to K-5 but rather moving forward to a preK-5.”
In 2010, one school in Milford was closed — Simon Lake School — and the other elementary schools were reconfigured into “sister schools,” offering kindergarten through second grade in one set of schools and grades 3-5 in the other.
The controversial move was the idea of then acting Supt. R. Michael Cummings Jr., who was working to cut costs in light of a $2.2 million reduction in the school board’s budget request that year.
The “sister school” arrangement was never popular with parents, however. Many said it was difficult, especially if they had children attending several different schools.
Following a lengthy long-range planning process, the Board of Education voted in October to return the elementary schools to the K-5 configuration. At the same time, pre-kindergarten classes, which used to be housed at only Orange Avenue School, will now be located in at least three elementary schools. Also, students will be redistricted to create balance between the schools.
Other budget increases
In addition to the reconfiguration expenses in the proposed 2015-16 budget proposal, Feser is asking for two additional school resource officers at a cost of $75,000; a security coordinator at $70,000 and three greeters at the middle schools, at a cost of $49,500.
There are four school resource officers now, one at each high school, plus one that splits time between West Shore Middle School and The Academy, and the other who splits time between East Shore Middle School and Harborside. Feser said she wants one more for the middle schools and an officer to travel between the elementary schools.
The new security coordinator position would be responsible for overseeing security at the 14 city schools.
“Both the District Safety and Security Working Group and the Chief of Police recommend this position,” Feser said, adding that the need for the position has come about because of tragic school shootings.
There are several other proposed additions for 2015-16.
Among those, Feser wants to hire an academic support specialist for each high school to work in a new support center, providing academic support and intervention to students throughout the day. Those posts amount to $120,000. She wants to increase the guidance counselor’s hours at the Academy to full time, a move that will cost $12,000 and which failed to get board support last year. She also wants to reclassify The Academy director, which is now a part teacher/part administrator position to a full director post, at a cost of $22,000.
Altogether, costs under the 2015-16 budget proposal increase spending $2.38 million over the current year. But Feser said she has outlined savings that amount to $2.01 million, some of them due to projected enrollment decline.
Reducing 13.4 existing teaching positions would save $804,000; cutting five special education teachers saves another $300,000; and cutting four part-time media aides cuts $40,000.
Teacher reductions would not necessarily result in layoffs, she said, because there could be movement to cover the new teaching positions required at the elementary level.
Among other reductions, Feser also expects to save another $150,000 in transportation; $20,000 in gasoline for the buses; $126,000 because the district no longer needs to pay an outside company for its energy conservation program; and $422,000 in computer costs because a state grant paid for a number of computers in the current budget.
Finally, because so much curriculum work was paid for in the current budget, Feser foresees spending $119,750 less in the next budget on curriculum work.
Monday was the first real public step in a long budget process.
Next, the school board will hold two workshops this week — Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m., and may vote as early as Wednesday, Jan. 21, on whether to back Feser’s proposal or make adjustments to it.
After the school board adopts a budget plan, that plan goes to the Board of Finance in February for review and then to the Board of Aldermen in April, in preparation for adopting a new city/school budget mid-May.