School superintendent proposes 1.89% spending increase

Milford School Supt. Dr. Anna Cutaia presented her first budget as school superintendent this week, coming in with a spending proposal of $95,078,487 for the 2019-2020 school year, which marks an increase of 1.89% over the current year’s budget of $93,315,155.

She said the budget advocates for the educational needs of Milford students and continues to move the school district forward, while being mindful of costs.

“While only in my position as superintendent of schools for a few months, I have had the opportunity to hear from stakeholders about what makes Milford great, as well as what can make us even greater,” Cutaia said in a written message to the Board of Education, which she attached to her budget plan. “I believe this budget represents the continuation of established accomplishments for our schools while at the same time starts to illuminate the next level of work.”

Cutaia presented her spending plan to the local media Monday afternoon, and then to the Board of Education Monday night.

Highlights of the budget plan include starting to teach foreign language, likely Spanish, in kindergarten and first grade. Today, Milford students start learning a foreign language in grade six.

“We know that the earlier you get to a child in language development the more likely it will stick,” Cutaia said. “And that is the best time in brain development research to introduce a second language.”

Within two years she hopes to have world language being taught in all kindergarten through grade five classrooms, as well as the upper grades where foreign language is currently taught.

Other initiatives include providing students with Chromebooks, starting with grades five through nine, which school officials earlier this year said will be accomplished at little to no cost because the district already has a number of Chromebooks.

The superintendent also plans to invest in equipment such as new robots for the robotics classes, and to work with a local company called Aced My Interview to provide students with interview experience to prepare for college and job interviews.

“Schools have been using it this year and we look forward to ensuring this opportunity for all juniors in the future,” Cutaia said.

She is requesting an additional school security guard, to work at The Academy, at a cost of $27,483. Today there are two security guards at Jonathan Law and two at Foran high schools, but none at The Academy.

Replacing classroom furniture, starting with three classrooms in each middle school, will play into “revisioning” classroom space, moving toward furniture that is movable, comfortable and makes a classroom more free flowing and flexible.

“Imagine yourself in a school environment for 6.5 hours and having to sit in that desk-attached-to-chair,” Cutaia said. “We’re proposing to move away from that rigid structure of furniture to a more flexible structure of furniture.”

Creating a fitness room at Harborside, as exists at the other two middle schools, is in the plans, as are after-school sports clinics at the middle schools.

The budget calls for some cost cuts, too, including a reduction of 6.1 full time positions — 2.7 are certified positions and 3.4 are non-certified — for a savings of $236,700.

The reduction is largely due to a drop in enrollment: Enrollment is expected to drop by 141 students next school year, from 5,595 to 5,454.

The staff reduction will not mean layoffs, but will be accomplished through attrition and retirements, Cutaia said.

She also expects to save another $120,000 in the substitute teacher account by reducing the number of times teachers are pulled from their classrooms for meetings and training. Replacing a database with a better aligned yet less costly one will save $45,500, and another $175,500 will be saved in the areas of property, insurances and telecommunications.

“Our greatest investment for the betterment of our students is in the people we hire,” she wrote in her budget presentation package. “Therefore, it is no surprise that 77.9% of the total budget is made up of salaries and benefits. While there is a net reduction of 6.1 FTE positions, overall salary accounts increased due to contractual obligations.”

Another major driver of the 2019-20 budget is a nearly 9% increase in health insurance costs for retirees, she said, adding that the hike is in line with other school districts.

The Board of Education will discuss the proposal during budget workshops Wednesday, Jan. 16 and Thursday, Jan. 17, starting at 7 p.m. in the Board of Education meeting room in the Parson’s Government Center.

The board is scheduled to vote on the plan Wednesday, Jan. 23, starting at 7 p.m., or on Jan. 24 if the board needs more time.

The Board of Finance will hold a public hearing and then start reviewing the budget on dates still to be determined, before reviewing and voting on a school and city budget plan. Finally, the Board of Aldermen will hold a public hearing and review the spending plans before adopting a new budget around the middle of May.