Budget under fire

MILFORD – Teachers, parents and students filled the high school lecture hall Monday night to question a budget proposal for next year that makes major changes in the schools.

Several said it makes too many changes too quickly and adds administrators while cutting staff who deal with children every day.

Bob Thompson, of the Advisory Budget Committee, called the plan unethical and said it does students “a massive disservice” and creates division in the community.

He and other speakers complained about the budget’s addition of two SAU administrators, $100,000 for professional development and lack of money for building maintenance.

The 157-page budget document was released last week and reviewed by the Advisory Budget Committee during a long Saturday meeting. The $41.9 million plan for 2019-2020 is $98,000 less than the current one.

At the Monday night school board meeting many of the comments from the audience were related to the cutting of 12.5 paraprofessional positions, out of 93 working in the schools. Teacher Steve Vetak warned of legal repercussions, but board Chairman Ron Carvell told him all children with IEPs (individual education plans) will receive services that are “above and beyond what is in their IEP.”

Superintendent Jessica Huizenga and administrators put together a budget plan that she says brings more cohesion to the middle and high schools and adds more specialists to the elementary grades. It also brings more money to special education programs, of significant concern, she said, because of a wide achievement gap between special ed students and the rest of the student population.

Milford’s 40 percent achievement gap rivals that of urban districts, she said. “We don’t have the system and services in place.”

“Many children over many years” have not been receiving the services they should, the superintendent said.

and if Milford waits a year, more children will lose out. Only 12 percent of Milford High School students are taking advanced placement courses and “we need to increase those numbers.”

Under the plan, advanced middle school students will be able to take high school courses and one parent said her two children are both thrilled at the opportunities it opens up for them.

The budget reduces to part time high school science, English, math and world language teachers and several high school students spoke up in defense of them and complained about the condition of the high school building.

Some people said the budget adds four additional administrators., but two of them – a grade 6-12 teaching director of humanities and a 6-12 STEM director – are also teaching positions, Huizenga said.

Michael Hatfield, director of special services had written an open letter to the community and families of special education students praising the changes.

At the meeting he said, “we can do this … the kids will be OK.”

Board members generally seem to like the plan, and Jenni Siegrist said she is excited about it, especially as it relates to special education and foreign language education for the early grades.

Chairman Ron Carvell proposed increasing the operating budget by $56,000, to re-instate a social worker at Heron Pond School and keep the world language teacher full time while exploring early foreign language education for Jacques School. He also proposed cutting the 10-month assistant principal position at the high school through attrition, reducing the professional development budget from $100,000 to $75,000 and re-instating $40,000 of the maintenance budget.

The board will continue reviewing the budget through December, and it can be seen on the district’s web site. Huizenga said hard copies will be made available.

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