Tuesday, April 26, 2011

School Closings And Student Declines May Fail To Abate Tax Increases

Last night I attended the the Board of Alderman Meeting to hear the prevailing arguments over the school budget. In attendance were all the top leaders of education including our new Superintendent Ms. Feser.

The topic was what to do about the 2010-11 education increases. The main concerns for the school board was the erosion of funding due to factors beyond their control. These included the rising cost of health care, the normal course of inflation, increases required to educate children with multiple disabilities, and spending cuts in education at the state and federal level.

Each year, when all the costs are added up Milford spends about $86M on education. This figure does not include grants, gate receipts, sports related fund raising, federal funds, and other money issued outside of Milford. When this is added into the equation the figure marches to over a 100M.

Greg Smith the Alderman Chair asked some very pointed questions, he demanded accountability and sound accounting practices. Smith referenced a declining student population, the closing of Simon lake, last years layoff of several school employees and the granting of year over year multimillion dollar increases to the BOE. Smith expressed concern over the BOE proposed budged arguing in defence of seniors and veterans who have not had any benefit increases in two years. Smith also alluded to the fact that there are about 120 foreclosures in Milford and a projected layoff of 25 city employees.

BOE Chair Mark Stapleton called Milford's educational increases sub-par when compared to Fairfield. Stapleton said Fairfield spends 75% of the city budget on education vs. 60% in Milford. Smith rebutted Stapleton by saying "Milford's Taxpayers do a good job of funding education."

The Milford Independent Party on a fact-check of this issue verified per-pupil spending in these two towns via the CERC data sheet. Fairfield spent a total of $151,011,000 vs. $106,963,000. Milford had 7,304 students enrolled and Fairfield had 9,957 students enrolled. The per capita student expenditure is $15,166.31 Per Fairfield pupil vs. $14,644.44 in Milford. Milford spends about $521.88 less per pupil than Fairfield.

Despite these expenditures, concern was then directed at the results of the taxpayers investment in education. Michael Cummings, last years acting Superintendent stated that Milford is part of a school block constructed by the CT Department of Education. That block comprised of scores of schools that rated each town in thirds. Cummings said that Milford's elementary students ranked in the bottom 1/3 when it came to performance and the Middle schools ranked in the Second third.

When the meeting concluded, it ended at "Recess." Smith said that this is because the process of debating the school budget is ongoing and will continue at the next meeting. There was no public comment allowed last night but at least one member of the public brought a sign perched on a chair expressing concern for the integrity of education in Milford. Overall public turnout was about 30 people.

After a careful review of the powers vested in the Board of Alderman, it became clear to me that their ability to affect or alter the school budget is limited. The budget will be either approved or denied depending on the actions of the Board of Education, the continued concessions of the teachers union and possibly the binding arbitration process in Hartford. Until there is a firm decision, the final numbers on the budget will remain uncertain.

Milford's new Superintendent Ms. Feser was quoted this morning by the New Haven Register as stating she is concerned that additional cuts to the BOE budget will compromise the "integrity of the classroom." Some members of the Board of Alderman, after the meeting, corrected their constituents views on similar remarks by reminding them that these "cuts" are not actually "cuts" but rather reductions in the "increase" over last years budget.

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