Milford Schools are hoping district voters will support an operating levy on the ballot for this November, and at a school board meeting held Monday night, they outlined just what is at stake along with that levy.
The 5.6 mill levy is a reduction of a 7.9 mill levy that failed in May, and will generate $13.3 million over three years for the district. Should it pass, the district is promising to beef up their programming and staff to levels present before the May levy failed. If it doesn’t pass, however, the district is warning that more cuts will be made to bring the budget into non-levy supported range.
At the top of those cuts will be the “neighborhood schools” program that was implemented when they built four new elementary schools a few years ago. The neighborhood schools concept, said Valerie Miller, Communications Coordinator for Milford Schools, has already suffered from cuts made over the summer, and will be altogether ended in favor of a more economical form of operation without the support of an operating levy.
“The neighborhood schools concept can have two forms,” said Miller. “For some, it could just mean the location, meaning your kids attend a school close to their home. The district sees it as an entire educational concept that provides the education a student needs in one building, K-6. It’s a good opportunity for them to establish relationships. They know their principal, their teachers, they have friends that stay with them throughout the years. The other aspect is they provide guidance counselors and support staff like kindergarten aides, media aides and libraries. It’s a philosophy of a nurturing and supportive environment to help kids succeed.”
However, the concept has been pared down after positions, programs and other amenities for the students were eliminated earlier this year. Now, the neighborhood schools are just that, schools that operate just down the road from a student’s house. However, further changes will even eliminate that comfort and will result in students being bussed to a grade level specific building.
“Because of the cuts initiated this year, those mechanisms have been stripped away,” said Miller. “They don’t have the kindergarten aides, the media aides, they don’t have the libraries. All of those pieces, when you pull them away, it becomes kids attending a building close to their home. The board looked at it, saw they had already been stripped away, and decided that grade level schools will allow the district to focus attention because all of the students in a building would be from one or two grades. It’s easy to manage and maintain standards, and allows the teacher to have a better academic focus. It’s two grade levels instead of seven. It can save money be becoming more efficient.”
Miller said that a building that only houses grades three and four instead of grades kindergarten through six are more efficient because it allows the student-teacher ratios to be tweaked. Currently, with six different elementaries offering grades three and four, some classes may be small, based on small local student populations, while other schools may be overflowing with students for the same reason. Therefore, bussing all of the children to one area will mean that they can make sure that teachers have an even load, and possibly eliminate a few in the process. In fact, the district expects to eliminate 12 teachers if the levy fails.
“You can pack more students into a classroom and have similar size class ratios,” said Miller. “Right now, we might have one second grade class with 18 kids and another with 30. By putting them all together, you can maximize the classroom ratio and reduce the need for teachers. You balance it across grade levels. Because of the budget cuts, neighborhood schools no longer follow that concept of a supportive, nurturing concept.”
The plan will allow for one building that will house all of the district’s kindergarten students. Then, the six elementaries will be divided – three to the north and three to the south. Each region of the district would then have a building for grades 1-2, 3-4 and 5-6.
However, Miller said that passing the levy would allow the schools to rehire some of the staff and rebuild some of those programs that will keep the neighborhood schools concept in operation. The cost to a homeowner of a home valued at $100,000 would be about $171.50 a year.
Other cuts from a failed levy would include bussing, primary art, music and physical education in the first and second grades, the reduction of several teaching positions and a number of administrative cutbacks.