On September 1, 2015, Dr. Phyllis Kohel, Superintendent of Milford School District, sent parents of students in the district a letter asking for their support in an Operations Referendum, scheduled for October 6, 2015. Dr. Kohel explained to parents that voting will take place at Morris Early Childhood Center, Banneker Elementary and Milford High School from 10 AM until 8 PM.
“We need your help,” Dr. Kohel said. “Due to budget cuts over the past several years, our students and our teachers have experienced cuts in program and benefits respectively. The students of Milford School District are continually offered the best resources available to give them every opportunity to grow academically. We are a school district committed to excellence.” Dr. Kohel continued by saying that the district works to hire the best teachers and administrators while using data to drive their decisions on where resources should be spent.
The state allocates $13,865 to the district in funding, and, based on that figure, Milford receives $2,123 less per pupil than Woodbridge, $3,042 less than Cape Henlopen and $5,352 less than Sussex Tech. In addition to the low state allocation, the Department of Education has required the district to pick up the cost for many important initiatives. If the district wants to hire a Reading Resource and Math Specialist to improve the reading or math scores of students, they must be counted as one of the teacher’s allocated units so that the state covers only a portion of their salary. In the past, the state fully funded such positions.
“The state cut funding for extra time programs such as summer school and after school tutoring,” Dr. Kohel said. “In addition, they have cut tuition reimbursement, tax relief allocations and much more. The district is now required to pay ten percent of pupil transportation, costing us $275,000 per year.” Prior to 2010, the state paid all transportation costs necessary to deliver students to and from school. Dr. Kohel said that the state has reduced Division II Energy funds during a time when energy costs increased by 37 percent. Dr. Kohel said that, just like a home budget, the district had to adjust its budget in order to cover these additional costs.
In order to meet the added expenses, Milford has had to draw approximately $1.2 million per year from its required reserve to meet regular operating expenses. The district attempted to eliminate the deficit by cutting building budgets, the operations budget and the athletic budget by 30 percent across the board, but they remained in deficit spending. The district has renegotiated the School Resource Officer contracts with the city, eliminated athletic programs and more, but their revenues still do not cover their expenses.
“As an additional effort and oversight, we invited the Department of Education’s Associate Secretary, who would head the financial review team, to review our financial position and budget,” Dr. Kohel said. “He concluded that an operations referendum was our only recourse. We have to find a way to maintain financial stability. We cannot continue down the same road. We are losing teachers to districts who pay higher salaries. We are unable to offer new and expanded courses of study to our students because we don’t have the space nor the money to do so. We can’t begin to reinstate what we’ve cut without a successful operations referendum.”
Dr. Kohel said the district will address the current budget deficit of approximately $1.2 million, support student safety and restore program reductions in the first year after the passage of an operations referendum. The district will also adjust local salary supplements in an effort to recruit and retain teachers as well as support increased operational costs such as energy and fuel. The district also plans to expand or create programs as space will allow and replace outdated technology in classrooms while maintaining current technology.
“We need parents and community support to help us maintain the integrity of our academic, vocational and arts programs,” Dr. Kohel said. “We want to continue our success at producing superior academic performance.”
Residents who live in the Milford School District, whether they own property or not, are permitted to vote in the school district referendum. Residents do not have to be registered to vote in city, state or national elections in order to vote. Voters must present valid photo identification in order to vote.