At a recent public hearing, Milford School District Superintendent, Dr. Phyllis Kohel, said that she had asked Representative Harvey Kenton to appropriate funding for two modular classrooms that would help alleviate overcrowding at Milford Central Academy and Milford High School. When the budget was approved on Wednesday, July 1, 2015, the Bond Bill committee agreed to appropriate $161,000 of the $230,000 that the district needed to place those classrooms on school grounds.
“The district will still have to fund $69,000 for the classrooms,” said Sara Croce, Chief Financial Officer at the district. “But, this is a huge help to us as the modular cost approximately $115,000 each, not including setup and site improvements to prepare for them.”
Ms. Croce also explained that there was discussion at the state level to unfreeze the formula for what are known as equalization funds which, under state code, provides matching funds to school districts who receive funds from local taxation for current operating expenses. At the public meeting, Ms. Croce explained to the audience that the district used 100 percent of the equalization funds provided by the state to fund local salaries. If the fund had been cut or “unfrozen,” the district would be in even more financial trouble than it already was.
“This formula was originally placed to assist with funding disparities among districts statewide,” Ms. Croce explained. “Over time, the formula was frozen because it was not functioning the way it was meant to. There was discussion this year by the Equalization Committee to unfreeze the formula, which would be highly detrimental to Milford, as well as other districts downstate.” According to Ms. Croce, if the formula was unfrozen, Milford stood to lose $1 million that would need to be absorbed by local taxes or positions would need to be cut.
Ms. Croce said that because the district was already having difficulty meeting current obligations with local tax revenues, it could not withstand an additional $1 million in losses. This would have forced the district to downsize staff significantly. The committee chose to keep the formula frozen for one more year and appointed a task force to review the funding. The state hopes to develop a solution for the formula that would provide additional funding to districts who are facing significant losses. In addition, the state increased the Education Sustainment fund which will help Milford and other school districts with local salary obligations.
The budget included funding that was lost when the federal government’s Race to the Top funds ended, but none of that funding was passed along to school districts. The funds replaced will be used to retain positions at the Department of Education that faced being cut due to the loss of the federal funds. Ms. Croce said that the replaced Race to the top Funds will have no benefit to the local district.
Ms. Croce said that several committees and workgroups had been developed to address many funding issues in the state, including the costs of transportation, teacher salaries and district funding. The district hopes to see reports on those in the coming months.
Milford School District’s Board of Education voted June 22 to hold an operations referendum on October 6, 2015 in order to eliminate a budget shortfall of almost $1 million. In March 2014, Milford residents voted against a referendum for an operations increase and a new Middle School. A referendum held in May 2015 for a new high school and an operations increase also failed. The district says that without a referendum, they will be unable to meet their portion of employee salaries. If this should occur, the state will send in a Financial Recovery Team who will take over the funding decisions for the district. This could mean loss of programs or teachers and the state could determine that Milford be merged with a neighboring district like Lake Forest or Cape Henlopen.
The next referendum is scheduled for October 6, 2015 and will be for an operations increase only.