School budget proposal moves forward at 2.29% increase

As far as the dollars go, the Milford Board of Education didn't change the school superintendent's budget proposal much before sending it on through the city's budget approval process last week.

School Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Feser has asked for an $88.87 million spending package, which represented a 2.29% increase over the current year's plan.

After several budget workshops and delving into line items and objectives, the school board voted to chop $27,000 from the proposal. The board's reduction, hardly ringing a bell at .03%, didn't change the overall budget increase much: It's still a 2.29% increase.

The changes, however, were more meaningful than the .03% might suggest. The board voted not to hire a part-time residency officer for $30,000 to follow up on students suspected of living out of district. At the same time, the board voted to allocate an extra $10,000 to pay for private investigators or other methods the administration might use to investigate students suspected of going to school in Milford illegally.

Board members also decided not to back a plan for middle school curriculum leaders, which would have cost $25,000.

They voted to add some expenses, too: About $10,000 for ice hockey and $7,500 for additional cross country coaches.

The board voted 9-1 in favor of the plan. Christopher Saley was the only member to vote “no,” saying he believes the administration does a great job but he would like to see more money going toward innovative education and less toward transportation, for example.

“I want to see more going 'in' the classroom,” Saley said.

In presenting this year’s budget plan, Dr. Feser said costs would have gone up more if administrators hadn't found money within the budget to reallocate.

With salaries increasing about $865,000 and benefits going up $341,000, plus increases of $57,000 in facility costs, and more, school officials said they would have been hard pressed to come in with what they see as a reasonable budget request. That is especially true when adding in another $1.3 million in costs associated with new school standards and improved safety measures, some of which have been spurred by the tragic shootings in Newtown.

All together, new and additional costs for 2013-14 amount to just over $2 million. But Feser said administrators identified $1.3 million in savings that will be realized through staff reductions, limited supply purchases and other means..

Administrators plan to cut 16 positions next school year, for a savings of $738,000. Those positions include six regular education and four special education teachers, five paraprofessionals, and a .5 position for a teacher for the deaf.

Chairman Tracy Casey commented last week that enrollment dropped markedly, by more than 600 students in a four-year period.

She said that while there have been staffing reductions to regular education, there hasn't been a corresponding cut to special education. “So part of understanding the adjustments goes back some years,” Casey said.

Parent Lisa Biagioni, however, spoke up and said she believes there's a lack of information about special education, the funding and the demands.

Big new expenses for 2013-14 come in three areas: Common core standards, which are steering education toward today's technology driven world and requiring more computers, software and training for teachers.

The second is new teacher evaluations, which will require some new positions to free up administrators to do the evaluations.

The third big expense area lies in improving operations, and calls for $87,000 to enhance and upgrade the security systems in place at all the school buildings.

Feser plans to add security cameras, install more swipe card entry pads, and hire people to greet visitors at each of the elementary schools. Greeters would add another $131,000 to expenses.

Casey commented on the greeter positions during the final budget workshop meeting last week. She said she talked to Police Chief Keith Mello and asked him if he thought greeters were a good idea.

“He said that greeters as we presented them are the right position,” Casey said. “He felt we did not need security or police at the elementary schools.”

Feser has said, however, that she would like to have four or five school resource officers to cover the school district. City leaders appear to be in agreement about having the officers, who are typically uniformed, armed police officers, but they are not in agreement about how to pay for the officers.

Next the school budget plan will go to the Board of Finance for review and finally to the Board of Aldermen some time in May.