School Board Approves October Referendum

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Photo of the previous Milford Middle School, Taken Carolyn Cohee.
Photo of the previous Milford Middle School, Taken Carolyn Cohee.

By Terry Rogers

At a special meeting held Tuesday, July 29, the Milford School District board of Education voted unanimously to seek an operations referendum in the fall for $3million. Superintendent Phyllis Kohel explained to the board and guests in attendance the need for the referendum to meet growing operating costs in the district.

“As you know, our March referendum did not pass for either operations or the new school,” Dr. Kohel explained. “I know that members of the board and myself have spoken to many people in the public and the fact remains that we will need to have a new school in the near future. However, it is clear after speaking with the citizens of the city that they do not want the old Middle School torn down. Therefore, we need more time to determine how we proceed regarding that property.” Dr. Kohel explained that the board would be seeking more input from the public regarding the building, which many people feel has significant historic value.

Dr. Kohel said that although several schools in the district, including Milford Central Academy, Lulu M. Ross Elementary School and Mispillion Elementary School were at or near capacity, the district felt it could delay building a new school for a while longer in order to develop a plan that would better suit the desires of the community while also meeting the needs of the district.

“In the meantime, we must do something with operations,” Dr. Kohel continued. “We have made serious budget cuts, eliminated programs and done everything we can to lower costs, but we cannot put off dealing with our operations shortfall any longer. Therefore, I am requesting that the board approve a referendum of $3 million for the fall. Keep in mind, this is contingent on the state allowing us to amend our original referendum request.” The $3 million is more than the $2.1 million the district was requesting in March, which Dr. Kohel said was to replace programs that were cut in order to balance the budget.

In March, Milford School District citizens voted down two referendums, one of which was for an operations increase, and the other to fund the demolition of the old Middle School building and construct a new Middle School on the site. Had both options passed, the average homeowner’s tax increase would have been approximately $95 per year. In that referendum, the district was seeking a $2.1 million increase for operations. The construction referendum failed by 175 votes, while the operations budget failed by 312 votes.

When developing the budget for the 2014-15 school year, Dr. Kohel said that the board wanted to investigate further whether they wanted to attempt another Major Cap and operations budget in the fall. In order to balance the budget, the district was required to use contingency funds of $1.8 million, leaving them with only two more years of contingency funds without passing an operations referendum. Dr. Kohel said that as much as the district was hoping to avoid raising taxes to cover the rising costs of operating the district, the board saw no other option but to attempt another referendum.

There was no discussion among the board members or comment from the public regarding the request from Dr. Kohel. The board approved the referendum contingent on approval from the Office of Management and Budget to amend their original Certificate of Necessity, which is scheduled to expire at the end of October. Since the district has chosen not to seek a referendum to replace Milford Middle School, they will be required to reapply for a Certificate of Necessity should they decide to hold a referendum at a later date. The tentative date for the upcoming referendum is October 11, 2014.