If referendum fails students will feel the pinch

Buc Tom Pres


MILFORD — Milford school district leaders are crossing their fingers and toes hoping that when voters go to the polls in a few days that they will vote to support their newest request for funding.

Voters will weigh in on whether the district will get access to some needed funding and have the ability to address overcrowding by building a new high school. The operating funds and construction of a new high school will be funded by increasing property taxes on homes in the Milford School District.

Leading up to last year’s failed referendum attempt and this new request, school district officials say they have been busy trying to cut costs and prove they are financially responsible.

Currently, the district has 4,203 students on its books. The cost to educate those students comes to about $50.7 million. The district expects its revenues will fall short by about $1 million, about $49.7 million.

“Since 2008, we have absorbed over $3.4 million in cuts in the district,” said District Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Kohel

The cuts have come in the form of less financial support from the state and federal governments.

“We used to have 100 percent of our positions funded by the state,” Dr. Kohel said.

The district now has to fund 30 percent of the salaries for its employees. The number of which is set by state and federal education standards.

“So we’ve had to pick up a percentage or not fund them at all,” said District Chief Financial Officer Sara Croce.

In December, the district decided to not fund one of its administration positions after this school year. In July, the district will lose its Director of Curriculum.

“We are now at the point that if we continue to cut we are really going to have to make some hard decisions about student programs. We don’t want to have to do that. That is why this referendum is so important,” said Dr. Kohel. “We are losing our director of curriculum for the district. That is a major loss for the district.”

Many of the cuts the district has made are not easily seen by the rest of the community. Some athletes saw a reduction in the number of assistant coaches it employed this year and the rest of the school community saw the list of items parents are asked to supply their students – like tissues and writing utensils – increase.

“In order to keep the district running we’ve had to make those cuts,” Dr. Kohel said.

Historically, the Milford School District has provided a K-12 Summer School. Now it only offers a much smaller program, just for secondary students that need the extra schooling to continue their school careers.

The referendum effort’s detractors are against raising taxes and many accuse the district of spending frivolously or having more administrators than it should.

Because there is a perception that the administration is larger than it should be Dr. Kohel said, “We are trying to show them, at the sake of hurting ourselves. We are willing to cut back as far as we possibly can.”

She said that effort is evidenced by the cutting of the curriculum director position. Dr. Kohel said that positions duties – which include supervising and training teachers and writing grants – will be divided up and made part of other employees’ duties.

“We are making bare bone cuts,” Dr. Kohel said.

Along with cutting programs and positions, the district hasn’t started any new programs.

“We are not able to do new programs, but the programs that we have are in jeopardy. We are concerned about student programing we don’t want this to impact the kids,” said Ms. Croce.

If the referendum doesn’t pass, plans for the new school will be tabled and the district will have to put its hand out again to make up for its operating expense shortfalls.

“Without a doubt we will have to come back out (to referendum) for just operations,” said Dr. Kohel.

Ms. Croce said the district would also have to start charging other taxes.

“We will also have to assess taxes that we currently are not assessing that do not need referendum approval,” she said.

The district hasn’t levied a capitation tax or a technology match tax for about 10 years.

“We haven’t done that since 2006,” Dr. Kohel said.

“Some people may think it is stupid and some people think it is responsible. We haven’t wanted to put any additional taxes on people,” Ms. Croce said.

The district is currently working on raising money in other ways, like selling the old middle school building.

“Two realtors have called about buying the building,” Dr. Kohel said.

It will take a year or more for the legal process that would allow the district to sell the building to be completed.

If the referendum doesn’t pass the community will start to see some real changes.

“They will see an increase in class size. They will see even more overcrowding than they see now. They may see modulars throughout the district,” said Dr. Kohel. “If it doesn’t pass, athletic programs will be affected.”

Managing Editor Logan B. Anderson can be reached at landerson@newszap.com. Follow @LoganBAnderson on Twitter.

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