School Board Hears Public Comments

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

By Terry Rogers

New School, Board Size & Security Cameras

On Tuesday, January 19, Milford School District Board of Education heard from two citizens with concerns about recent board discussions and decisions. Keith Poptanich asked the board to review any requests for a tax increase for a new school very closely while Troy Mason disagreed with a recent decision to reduce the board from eight members to seven.

“I am asking the board to look at every nickel, dime and penny in the budget before asking the public for more money to build a new school,” Mr. Poptanich said. “The news keeps saying the economy is improving, but people in this area are still hurting financially. Insurance costs and copays are very high, especially for people like me and my wife, as we are both disabled. Adding more costs to our budget, even a small amount, could be devastating financially.” Mr. Poptanich said that he would like the board to look closely at using existing schools in order to meet the growing enrollment needs.

Renate Wiley, President of the School Board, said that the board is always looking for ways to keep costs down and they try not to go out to ask the public for additional money unless they absolutely have to do so. Mr. Poptanich said that the public had already told the district no on two previous referendums that they did not want to pay for a new school, yet the district was once again talking about a referendum in the near future in order to build one.

“You don’t need the Taj Mahal of schools,” Mr. Poptanich said. “You need to review your resources and see what you already have available before you go out to the public again. Even a small tax increase could be devastating to some of us.” Mr. Poptanich also requested that the board room be made more handicap accessible as it was difficult for him to get in and out of the room in his wheelchair.

At the December 2015 board meeting, the school board voted to reduce the number of board members from eight to seven. According to discussion at that meeting, the state requires the board to have five members, but the board felt that they could better govern the district with seven members. The board voted unanimously to not fill Pat Emory’s seat on the board when it came up for election in May. Mr. Emory had announced in the past that he would not seek reelection. Mr. Mason disagreed with this decision, saying that five members was enough and that the board should have allowed public discussion before voting.

“This decision was made without any public input,” Mr. Mason said. “I feel that five members can do what needs to be done in this district and that there is no need for seven. You are always talking about saving money, so a reduction in board members seems like a great way to do that.” Mrs. Wiley reminded Mr. Mason that school board members were not paid, so eliminating two more members would not create a cost savings. She told Mr. Mason they would take his comments under advisement.

Lee Thompson of Advantech, the company who provides security equipment to the district, presented a proposal for new high-definition cameras at the Evelyn I. Morris Early Childhood Center, Milford High School and Lulu M. Ross Elementary School. Mr. Thompson explained that security at schools was very important in light of recent bomb threats and incidents in other areas of the country. He said that the three schools in the proposal currently had older, analog cameras installed. These cameras do not provide the quality video necessary to identify those who may be engaged in dangerous activities.

“What we would do is install IP video as well as a monitor in each office,” Mr. Thompson said. “The monitor will give parents piece of mind as they will be able to see the monitors in the front office. The cameras in the schools now simply do not give us video with the quality we need in order to identify those who are doing things wrong.”

In the proposal, Advantech would install 33 cameras throughout Morris. Eleven would be interior cameras and 22 would be exterior cameras. At Milford High School, there would be 61 cameras installed, 41 interior and 23 exterior. There would also be two recorders installed at the school. At Ross, there would be 24 cameras installed, 12 interior and 12 exterior. Cameras at the Milford Central Academy are already high-definition cameras as the school was built more recently than the others. This would leave only the Carey Simpson Building and the District Office as the only locations with analog cameras.

“We just recently had these types of cameras installed at Banneker,” Ms. Wiley said. “We were having some problems at the school and the cameras actually led to the arrest of those who were causing those problems. The issues are now gone and the students are much safer.”

The estimate for the entire project was $324,900 and would be paid with minorcap funds. Minorcap funds are used to repair or replace equipment in the schools. The State of Delaware will pay 60 percent of the costs while the district will pay 40 percent. Mr. Thompson also said that a survey found that Milford had far fewer cameras in their high school than surrounding schools.

“Your high school currently has 43 cameras,” Mr. Thompson said. “Cape Henlopen has 150, Caesar Rodney has 100, Smyrna has 250 and Woodbridge has 67.” The proposal was submitted to the board for review and will be voted on at the next board meeting.

Dress code changes were tabled until the next meeting. The board also approved a small number of school choice applications, all of which were for the children of teachers or those who had siblings in the building. Two Kindergarten applications were approved as state regulations require all districts to approve those school choice applications, regardless of capacity. Since all Milford buildings are at or over capacity, all remaining school choice applications were placed on a waiting list.