School Board limits spending

MILFORD – Milford School Board members have figured out how much they want to spend next year, but they’re less certain about exactly what to spend it on.

“It’s hard to have specifics when so much is up in the air,” board Chairman Peter Bragdon said Monday night, after the board voted to limit spending next year to slightly over $28.5 million, an increase of 4 percent.

Details of the proposal, which includes the operating budget and some warrant articles, are still uncertain for two reasons:

– On the cost side, negotiations are continuing over a new teacher contract, which is by far the largest expense in the budget.

The four-year contract runs out at the end of this school year, and officials seem cautiously optimistic that a new contract will be agreed upon in time for School District Meeting in March.

– On the income side, there is uncertainty about federal funding for at least one special-education position and “adequacy aid” payments from the state.

Milford is slated to get $7.7 million in state aid next year, an increase of $1.4 million over this year’s payment. However, political and fiscal uncertainties in Concord make the board unwilling to count on this extra money.

Administrators had wanted to use at least part of this extra money for operating items like a partial position in the music department and continuing a multi-year program of maintenance upgrades at the high school, but the board declined.

“I think they wanted to play department and continuing a multi-year program of maintenance upgrades at the high school, but the board declined.

“I think they wanted to playthe game safely,” said Business Manager Michael Trojano. “If the money didn’t come through, it would be a big hit (on the tax rate).”

Instead, the board plans to use any state aid above the current level to help pay for a proposed addition to Heron Pond elementary school. That $4.2 million addition is not included in the cost calculations, because even if it is passed by voters in March, the first bond payment will not be due until the following year. About two-thirds of the cost will be covered by $2.7 million in fire-insurance payments for the Garden Street School. In what turned out to be good timing for Milford, the school was destroyed by a still-unsolved arson on the day before residents voted to tear it down.

The bulk of the proposed increase in spending goes to what Trojano called non-discretionary spending, including a 10 percent high in health insurance costs, which adds about $400,000 to the budget, and such things as oil and electricity. The $28.5 million budget total passed 3-1.

Paul Dargie voted against it, saying “I think it cuts too much,” and Cara Barlow was not present.

The budget will be discussed at a public hearing on Jan. 17.

In other annual meeting-related items Monday, the board:

– Decided not to put a warrant article before voters asking if they would like Mason students to attend Milford schools on a tuition basis. Mason’s plan to withdraw from the Mascenic Cooperative School District has been put on hold, after the state Board of Education turned down the idea for procedural reasons.

– Decided not to seek any money to upgrade Bales School for the alternative Sage School program, which has about two dozen teens there. Only part of the century-old building is being used, and concerns had been raised about the heating and other systems. Upgrading it entirely would cost $3.3 million, according to one estimate.