More cuts eyed at school – Committee recommends eliminating staff position

MILFORD – The Advi­sory Budget Committee faced off with school of­ficials recently, recom­mending a budget $320,000 less than the School Board’s.

Among the committee’s recommendations is the elimination of one more staff position.

The School Board’s pro­posed $39.6 million plan for next year reflects a reduction of five teaching positions. The committee wants six members of the professional staff cut.

"We’ve gone line by line and have come up with a budget that achieves a balance between edu­cational needs and the needs of taxpayers," com­mittee Chairman Rick Wood said at the School District’s Jan. 19 budget hearing.

Voters will debate and possibly amend the bud­get warrant article at the School District’s Delib­erative Session on Thurs­day, Feb. 4.

Proposed cuts are justi­fied by staff-to-student ra­tios, Wood said, and with enrollments and revenue dropping, more frugality is needed.

Wood also called teach­ers’ negotiated salary in­creases excessive, and questioned the need for the purchase of Chromebook laptop computers for students. With about 20 percent of the students getting free and reduced-price lunches, he said, spending should be more tightly controlled.

"We are pricing people out of the community," he said. Defending the school budget was Bob Thompson, a parent who said a staff cut at Jacques School could have "a devastating impact on my daughter’s third-grade class," bringing class size too high for that grade level.

"We’d be cutting into muscle," he said. Peter Lippitt, a longtime Milford substitute teacher, questioned the elimination of the computer science class at the middle school. "We couldn’t agree more about the importance of computer skills," Superintendent Robert Marquis told him. He explained that the middle school is now integrating curriculum with technology, a model "we think is more effective and efficient," with a tech teacher going from class to class. Gary Daniels, a Milford selectman and state senator, asked school officials to justify the Chromebooks. School Board Chairman Paul Dargie said the laptops allow students to be in a walled Internet environment that helps them organize their work and edit one another’s papers.

Daniels also said he might accept the school budget’s increase if there was a corresponding increase in math and science test scores. Marquis said changes in standardized testing makes comparing scores difficult, but measures such as graduation rates and acquisition of job-related skills show progress. Later, Wood said the School District is setting kids up for failure by giving them the impression that they have to have everything, including the latest computer equipment. The School Board’s proposed $39.6 million operating budget is a 4.43 percent increase.

Along with the budget, there is a $3 million warrant article for repairs and renovation projects at the schools, with the highest priority being replacement of the old and leaking heating pipes at the high school. The budget committee supports the 10-year bond, saying the building improvements are vital, although Wood said some priorities should be adjusted and technology rooms should have air conditioning – not the high school gym. The proposed budget and the bond payment would mean an estimated $1.46 increase in the school tax rate, or 7.27 percent. The committee’s recommendations would result in a $1.14 rate increase, about 5.68 percent. The Deliberative Session is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4, in the high school cafeteria. Voting on school and town warrant articles and on the election of town and school officers will take place on Election Day, Tuesday, March 8.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.