On Monday, June 2, Milford School District Board of Education approved drastic budget cuts in order to meet a budget deficit. In May, 2015, a referendum requesting a tax increase for the operations deficit as well as for a new high school was defeated. The cuts made at the special board meeting are in addition to $1.2 million in cuts already made over the past two years.
“The district is literally cutting into the bone, not to it,” said Dr. Phyllis Kohel, Superintendent. “It is important to note that the district has done, and is continuing to do, whatever it can to cut back on spending. We have cut positions and programs to stretch our dollars as far as possible. In the past two years, we have cut the building budgets for classroom supplies, teaching curriculum support, student workbooks and other district funded support resources by 30 percent. We plan to make even deeper cuts next year.” Dr. Kohel said that the district has eliminated their elementary summer school programs and limited the secondary summer school program to students who must take a class for promotion purposes.
There were two plans presented to the board at the meeting. Plan A included cutting one custodial, one secretarial and one administrative position as well as reductions to the building budgets. Two school resources officers would be cut and expenditure reductions throughout the district would take place. All middle school athletics would be eliminated along with High School Cheerleading and Swimming. Odyssey of the Mind, Math League, All-State Chorus, Theatrical Stage Set and Solar Car Club would all be eliminated. The Band Chorus and Drama Advisor for Milford Central Academy would be eliminated as well as many limited contracts. Transportation costs would be reduced due to the elimination of late starts and the need to transport Middle School students for practice. The budget savings for these cuts would total $534,795.30.
Plan B would eliminate two school resource officers and an athletic trainer. Odyssey of the Mind, Math League, All State Chorus and Theatrical Stage Set would all be eliminated. In addition, the positions for band director, chorus director and the drama advisor for Milford Central Academy would no longer be funded. Building budgets and technology replacements would also be required under Plan B. The transportation savings by eliminating late starts would also be included in the second plan. Plan B would realize a savings of $455,645.30.
“The board chose to go with Plan B for the upcoming school year,” Dr. Kohel said. “However, the district must go out for an operations referendum if it expects to be able to financially support itself. With the cost of running the district and offering the best for our children, we have no other choice.”
Dr. Kohel explained that a financial consultant from the Department of Education met with the district to look at what had been done so far to reduce the budget and to see what other areas could be reduced in order to balance the budget. He agreed that the only way for the district to become solvent was through an operations referendum. According to the consultant, the district has done everything it can to remain operational for no more than three or four more years.
“When you look at Plan A and Plan B, there seems to be a disparity between cuts in athletics and in the arts,” said Yvette Dennehy, who was recently elected to the school board and currently the leader of Buccaneer Tomorrow, a parent group working to develop a vision for the district over the next few years. “However, I have learned that athletics took a major hit in last year’s cut which included the elimination of 15 assistant coaching positions, both the Middle and High School track programs and competition cheerleading. Even though the loss of an athletic trainer may not seem like much of a big deal, it is for the athletic program. It is important to note that band and chorus are not being phased out. I can tell you there was a lot of discussion regarding what would be cut.” Ms. Dennehy, who will take the seat on the board currently held by Mark Schanne in July, was not part of the discussion at the meeting, but was in attenfdance.
Ms. Dennehy said that she would have preferred to see more “pay to play” options and thought the district should keep the school resource officers, but understands there is a bigger picture to look at when it comes to the district budget.
“We need more community input,” Ms. Dennehy said. “Everyone who lives here is a stakeholder in this community. We need more face-to-face dialog, not just posts on social media or letters to the editor. We need all opinions, ideas and suggestions.”
Dr.Kohel pointed out that when a referendum was passed in 2006, the district chose to lessen the tax burden on residents by eliminating the capitation tax which is levied on all persons 18 years or older. This tax was paid whether you owned property or not in Milford School District.
“We are not saying we want to reinstate the capitation tax,” Dr. Kohel said. “But we must look at every avenue possible to do what is best for our students. We are also looking at a match tax which allows districts to match state funding. Match taxes may be used for technology, reading and math resource teachers or extra time services. The board voted to discontinue match taxes in 2009.
The district plans to hold a workshop regarding the budget deficit on June 17, 2015 at 6:30 PM in the District Board Room, located in the Middle School Annex. Anyone is welcome to attend and provide suggestions or ideas regarding ways the district may meet their budget shortfall.
“We want anyone with an idea or suggestion to attend this meeting,” Ms. Dennehy said. “If you voted no for the referendum, we want to hear your ideas on how we could approach the operations deficit and overcrowding problem better. If you voted yes for the referendum, we want to hear what we need to do to get the message out better regarding how critical this problem is. We are open to any and every suggestion.”