Connecticut Post (Sunday)

$1.8 million cut from Milford school budget request

Board of Finance endorses $104.6M spending plan

- By Saul Flores

MILFORD — In a split decision, the Board of Finance cut $1.8 million from the Board of Education’s proposed $106.5 million budget for the coming fiscal year.

The board, at its meeting this week, approved a school budget of $104.6 million, still a $2.6 million increase over the current $102 million school budget. Republican Scott Moulton and Democrats Raymond Arnold and Meghan Smith voted in favor, while Republican Lauren Rangers and Chair Brian Lerma, a Democrat, voted against the motion.

The Board of Finance’s recommende­d school budget number now goes before the Board of Aldermen for final approval and adoption.

Rangers said she supported the entire budget and said any cuts to the lean budget would impact students directly.

“I see three driving factors,” Rangers said. “I see salaries, I see students, and I see system improvemen­ts. Salaries make up 77 percent of this budget. It’s a budget full of human capital. These are people in front of our students daily: our teachers, specialist­s, counselors and principals.”

“There’s nothing jaw dropping in my opinion, and the last thing I see, it’s very student centered,” she added.

However, Arnold said the school system is becoming very top-heavy.

“There are more counselors and teachers, there’s more administra­tion, and I just don’t see it as a sustainabl­e thing,” he said. “The increase in headcount in the past couple of years benefited because of the expansion of the foreign language, which was an excellent choice, and the expansion of STEM.”

Milford’s school budget had four elementary school counselors and one supervisor for equity and engagement moving from the Elementary and Secondary School Relief grant into the general fund budget.

“The windfall from the COVID money set us on a path of 12 people. That is not a preordaine­d fact because we had a windfall,” said Arnold. “I don’t think it’s in the long-term benefit of Milford to rely on counselors. There definitely is stress in the schools, but just throwing money at it is not the solution, and I can’t support that.”

Moulton also raised concerns about the budget’s cost.

“I’ve never had a bad experience for any of my kids in the Milford school system,” said Moulton. “But sitting here as a volunteer and someone who’s got to be a shepherd for the city’s finances, I agree with Ray. It is difficult when you have a significan­t increase such as this.”

Lerma said his concern is the hiring of new positions despite the trend of declining enrollment.

“Twelve positions have been added over the past five years despite, I think, 300 or 400 fewer students, and that’s a concern,” Lerma said.

In Mayor Ben Blake’s proposed budget, health insurance contributi­on for the department of education stands at $25,066,934, which Arnold said could be addressed by the head count.

“Medical expenses are going up, insurance is going up, the surest way to keep that under control is to control the headcount,” he said.

But the increased cost of health insurance has stressed the city and Board of Education sides, Lerma said.

“The healthcare cost is not reflected in the Board of Education budget,” he said. “That shows up on the city side of the budget, but it is a function of what’s happening on the board of education side as well.”

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