On Thursday, July 20, 2017, Milford School District Board of Education approved a preliminary budget for the 2018-19 School Year. Prior to the approval of the budget, Dr. Kevin Dickerson, Superintendent, and Sara Croce, Chief Financial Officer, explained how the district was managing the budget with over $700,000 in cuts from state funding.
“In anticipation of reductions from the state, we made some adjustments last year so that those reductions would not be as difficult to manage this year,” Dr. Dickerson said. “However, Milford saw a reduction of $740,848.15 from the state, higher than the $616,391 we were able to reduce last year. From the beginning, we wanted to be sure to maintain our student programming and provide our staff with the resources they need. We also want to create financial stability in the district and remain fiscally responsible. We need to look at this long-term, looking beyond 2018 to 2019, 2020, 2021 and further.”
Dr. Dickerson explained that much of the savings came from different uses of funding in order to address budget deficits. The district was also able to reduce spending by using various grant monies that were available for some student programs.
“We are also looking at consolidating our district office footprint,” Dr. Dickerson said. “We’ve already moved Transportation back to the district office and are looking at ways to put all our administration departments under one roof. We were able to better utilize our fields and open spaces so all sports can be kept at the High School and Central Academy, eliminating the cost of transporting students to the old Middle School for practices.”
One area that Dr. Dickerson said the district is hoping to reduce expenses is to re-evaluate the former Middle School for future purposes. The district is planning to create a committee consisting of parents, business leaders, City officials and educational professionals who will look at the building with fresh eyes to see if there is the possibility of reusing the building. One suggestion was using the building as a school that would focus on students with special needs in order to reduce tuition costs to other districts.
“Nothing is off the table and nothing is finalized,” Dr. Dickerson said. “We are looking at this with a blank-slate approach and looking at every possible use for the building. We are still accountable to the state for any purpose we decide for the building.” Ms. Croce said that demolishing the building would require state approval. She also explained that the City and the District had separated the lands of the school several years ago so that if the District sold the Middle School building, the open space behind it would not be included in the sale.
Dr. Dickerson explained that the only building owned 100 percent by the district was the District Office. If the District decided to sell that building, they would retain the entire proceeds of the sale which could be used to offset the cost of another building or the repurposing of the Middle School.
“I think the District needs to consider doing a master plan out one, three, five or ten years,” Jennifer Cinnelli-Miller, who serves on the Citizen’s Budget Oversight Committee, said. “We keep revisiting the same issues over and over. I think if you put together a plan that showed where the District wanted to be in the future, even one you could revise and adjust as you needed, it would keep us from talking about the same problems over and over again.”
Dr. Dickerson said that the District also lowered costs in operations by asking custodial staff to perform work that was previously contracted and taking better control of products used by custodial staff. Transportation costs were being addressed by streamlining bus routes to make them more efficient.
“Two district office units that are not filled right now will not be filled this year, one administrator and one reading specialist,” Dr. Dickerson said. “Four teaching units and one custodial unit will also not be filled. There will be no cuts to teaching, administrative or custodial staff. We are simply not filling open positions.” The administrator position that will not be filled is the Director of Personnel. Paul Walmsley tendered his resignation in early July after six years with the District and his duties will be absorbed by other administrators. Dr. Dickerson explained that a “unit” is a person, but that the State provides funding for these positions based on “units,” so that term is often used by District personnel when they discuss teachers and other staff needs.
Overall, the district was able to recognize savings of $926,852.67 in 2017 and with projected expenses in 2018.
“We are asking our teachers to make sacrifices,” Yvette Dennehy, Vice-President of the Board said. “I want to be absolutely sure that we are not adversely affecting their ability to do their job. We really need to monitor this over the next year because, at some point, there is a threshold we could reach where we keep taking and taking to the point that our teachers can no longer do their job.”
The Board of Education unanimously approved the preliminary budget.
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