The Milton School Board will present taxpayers with a $32.65 million draft budget proposal for fiscal year 2020, a 10.96 percent increase over the previous year’s budget, creating an estimated 2.11 percent tax rate increase, officials said. The district’s education spending would increase an estimated 3.16 percent.
The owner of a $250,000 home would see an approximate $75.50 tax bill increase without income sensitivity if voters approve the budget on Town Meeting Day.
Voters may see an additional .16 percent increase on the tax rate if they approve a second article for an approximately $1.3 million bond. The loan would retrofit the current administrative offices into five classrooms and build a new brick and mortar district office on the Bradley St. property. The project would add $6 annually in taxes for the owner of a $250,000 home over the bond’s 30-year term.
Should voters turn down the second article, the district will carry out the retrofit using funds from the capital repair and replacement reserve fund and rent office space for administrators until a more permanent solution can be made.
The budget proposal scraps current pre-K-2 and Grades 3-5 principal positions, replacing them with one principal for pre-K -5 and an assistant principal. The district has already posted the position, according to superintendent Amy Rex.
The budget would also remove the Act 166 comprehensive services coordinator—who services the pre-K program—replacing them with an early childhood coordinator. This instructor would combine elements of the special ed director, essential early education and administrative roles, which were previously filled by three employees. Streamlining the position would eliminate any silo effect created by multiple posts, Rex said.
Other adds include a social & emotional learning coordinator and a restorative practices/hazing harassment and bullying educator to help with the district’s changing behavioral needs. Today, education requires a three-pronged approach focusing on self-awareness; community building; and reinforcing positive student behavior, Rex said.
“What has happened over time is that discipline has become a form of punishment,” Rex said. “Punishment doesn’t teach.” She’s confident the new coordinators will help improve school culture.
Cutting the pre-K-2 and 3-5 principals along with the Act 166 coordinator would decrease district expenses by about $357,000 in salaries and benefits. Districtwide, faculty adds would cost about $772,000 in salaries and benefits, leaving the proposed net impact on the FY20 budget around $416,000 before adding the classroom retrofit and new district office expenses, district numbers show.
Cost drivers in this year’s budget include health care and special education. Health care premiums will increase by about 11.8 percent in FY 20, and salaries and benefits will comprise nearly 80 percent of the budget, according to Rex.
Special education costs are estimated to increase by about $1.7 million from the current fiscal year, but state reimbursement helps cover those expenses, according to business manager Don Johnson. Expenses and reimbursements depend on the number of students who need services and the price of those services.
Currently, the state refunds – using federal dollars – up to 56 percent of expenses for students with an individualized education program requiring under $50,000 in aid. For expenses over that threshold, the state reimburses the first $50,000 at 56 percent and every dollar over at 90 percent.
The trustees unanimously passed the budget at their Jan. 28 meeting and hosted a community forum last Saturday to familiarize Miltonians with the proposal.
“It’s kind of a no-frills budget,” board member Emily Hecker said. “But I think under Amy’s tutelage and with her leadership skills, we’ll make the most of those positions.”
The budget and retrofit article meet urgent needs in the district while remaining fiscally responsible, she said. For example, the number of students requiring English language services has tripled, making a half-time increase to an existing English language instructor position a must, Hecker said. A space solution, and other faculty adds, were decisions that could not be postponed, she said.
With Town Meeting soon approaching, Rex is hopeful voters will approve the second article and fund the additional classrooms and district office through a bond. While the school will make space amends regardless of the election result, Rex said it would be a detriment to spend money on rental space and split up the administrative team.
“That’s not an investment,” she said. “It’s money that has to keep being doled out year after year.”
Dividing the administrative team would fragment the officials with the greatest responsibility to advance the district. Building a dedicated space to house the district office and teachers resource center would decrease inefficiencies and advance the district toward its goal of continuity, Rex said.
Initially, Rex was in favor of purchasing a modular building to house the offices as a cost-effective measure. But estimates showed little price difference between a trailer and new construction after infrastructure was accounted for, she said. Moreover, the modular space was projected to have a shorter lifespan than a brick and mortar building.
“The most important [reason to approve the article] is to bring that continuity to the district in an investment sort of way,” Rex said. “[Taxpayers are] going to be paying for a building that then therefore stays, belongs to the district, it will be paid for and then still has a really good life afterwards in terms of longevity.”