Citizens continue to raise concerns over school tax increase

MILFORD — School district officials say hindsight is 20/20 after concerned citizens filled another Milford School Board meeting last week, demanding unanswered questions regarding the recent school tax increase be answered once and for all.

To their surprise, the board made almost no attempts at answering any of them during the regular meeting held Monday, Sept. 19.

The meeting, which was moved from its usual room in the old Milford Middle School to the cafeteria at Milford Central Academy to accommodate extra visitors, included normal agenda items along with a brief re-introduction to the school tax issue by new Superintendent Dr. Kevin Dickerson.

“First and foremost, we have to accept responsibility for not communicating well enough,” he began to tell the crowd. “It should have been extensive and earlier.”

milford-school-boardThe tax rate associated with the current operating expense for the Milford School District, he continued to explain, was approved by referendum last year.

The tax rate associated with the tuition tax, which fluctuates yearly based on the need for special needs services outside of the district and the cost of those services, was approved in June by the school board and subsequently set in place in July.

“Simply put: we had an increase in tuition services and need,” he said of the tuition tax, also commenting that the need for special needs services has “stayed relatively stable” in recent years.

“With much regret, this should have been communicated much more broadly to our taxpayers. Know that this will improve,” he added.

“The tuition rate was never anticipated during the referendum. We didn’t know just how much the rate would increase until the tuition bill arrived in the spring, although they noticed an increase in need in the fall and winter.”

Dr. Dickerson told the crowd of action steps the district is prepared to take to help mitigate this problem in the future.

Increase monitoring of out-of-district student services.

Hold open tax rate presentations in the spring at school board meetings and within the community prior to the approval of the overall 2017 tax rate.

Research in-district programs or services that could be developed to better serve the student population receiving out-of-district services.

Revise formats for how board meeting agendas, minutes, financial reports, recordings and other documents are communicated for easier accessibility.

Explore strategies for enhancing educational, communication and financial practices.

“We want these services to be great, we want to give our community the best,” he said.

Public Comments

Following Dr. Dickerson’s presentation and before more than 11 citizens took to the podium for the public commentary portion of the meeting, Milford School Board President Renate Wiley had a few words to say.

“Now I don’t know if you’re as slow a learner as I am, but it took me a long time for me to understand these taxes. For me, it’s very complicated. And each time I hear it, I understand more and more,” she said. “This is your opportunity to speak with us. We can have community meetings to talk more. This is an opportunity for you to talk to us.”

Bryan Ward said he, like many in the room, does not have any children currently enrolled in the Milford School District, although his two children who are now grown both graduated from Milford Senior High School.

“I like to support my school district,” he said. “But it seems like it’s a lot easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.”

Like many other commenters, he questioned the steepness of the increase.

“Why haven’t we been taxed at a rate that is comparable to the cost of living increase,” Mr. Ward asked. “What’s the incentive to improve on education and why hasn’t that been done on the past? I know several of you have been on the school board for a long time and, well, the transparency is not a good thing.

“If your boss came to you and said you’re going to get a slight decrease in your paycheck and, when you get your check, you see a 50 percent decrease, you would start having some concern for your paychecks. We’re just as concerned about our taxes.”

Several speakers asked for audits of the school district.

George Mason, who introduced himself to the board as a former psychiatric teacher, expressed concern over the way the board went about situation.

“I’m a bit concerned about how we function in the community. When you have a lot of secrets and when you aren’t prepared when you come to a meeting and you know you’re going to have to answer some questions, I can say to you very politely, ladies and gentlemen, I know much of it is legal. I understand that,” he said.

“But is it ethical and is it moral? We understand that when justice goes out the door, the sword comes in the window. It may be time to explore how things are done.”

Board members offered no resolutions to questions asked as the topic was not on the agenda. By law, the board cannot discuss topics during the meeting which have not previously been placed on the agenda.


Read Milford School District’s Superintendent Dr. Kevin Dickerson’s response following the meeting here.

Jennifer Antonik can be reached at mc@newszap.com

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