Kindergarten goes before voters

MILFORD – Full-day kindergarten is the only controversial article on the School Board’s warrant this year, although the $305,000 proposal is said to have no tax impact.

Voters can review and comment on the plan at the district’s Deliberative Session, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, in the Milford High School cafeteria.

School officials are expecting the pilot program to attract up to 80 5-year-olds, with about 20 of them paying no tuition.

At the school budget hearing last month, Peter Basiliere, the district moderator, told the board it doesn’t seem right that 60 families would subsidize 20 whose families can’t afford tuition. He called the $510 monthly tuition expensive, citing the cost of other nearby programs.

“The difference is we have qualified teachers,” said board Chairman Paul Dargie, which the other programs aren’t obligated to have.

Another resident called the program “just another way to get in free kindergarten,” and asked the board why it was pushing it.

“I’m in favor of public education,” Dargie replied.

Budget Committee member Bob Thompson congratulated the board and said the program might generate revenue the way full-day kindergarten does in Brookline.

“Research shows clear benefits,” he said. “I would hate Milford to be the last one” in the state to have an all-day program.

Although the warrant article asks for $305,819 to cover full-day kindergarten, the program is expected to be self-funding, with tuition offsetting its costs. The 20 subsidized students would be those receiving free or reduced priced lunch.

The School Board recommended the kindergarten article by a vote of 3-1. Dargie was absent for the vote; he said that with his vote, it would have been 4-1. The Budget Committee recommended it by a vote of 7-1.

Another big warrant article is a $3 million bond for maintenance, repairs and upgrades to the school buildings. A similar proposal failed last year, and this one leaves out items, including air conditioning of the high school gym and some interior rooms, that people questioned. The article has the unanimous support of both the board and the Budget Committee.

The list of improvements includes a new gym floor, which is said to be “down to nailheads” after being sanded many times. A three-fifths ballot vote is required for passage.

Selectman Gary Daniels asked about several spending items and why costs increased while enrollments are down.

Dargie said there is little the board can do about increases for health insurance and contributions to the state Retirement System, or the $300,000 increase for out-of-district special education placements, which he called unusual.

He said every individual education plan is based on what is good for the student and for the management of costs, and that for severely handicapped children, there is a limited number of places where they can go.

The operating budget would be $40 million. The default budget, which includes money the School Board is legally bound to spend, is $54,600 more than the operating budget .

The warrant also includes cost items in two collective bargaining agreements.

The pact with the Milford Educational Personnel Association, the school custodians union, has wage and benefit increases offset by changes in benefits, for a total cost of $6,705 for the agreement’s first year and $20,209 for the second year.

The paraprofessionals union reached a three-year agreement with the board that includes 2 percent wage increases. Benefit changes, however, mean a $2,107 drop in costs the first year. The second and third year see increases of about $60,000.

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