Milford School District board members are currently reviewing a slew of possible cuts to the district budget to offset an anticipated deficit during the 2015-2016 school year, including 20-percent cuts to the majority of the district’s local budgets, including athletics accounts and positions, which could cause some controversy as the next school year approaches.
Milford School District board members are currently reviewing a slew of possible cuts to the district budget to offset an anticipated deficit during the 2015-2016 school year.
The proposed budget includes 20-percent cuts to the majority of the district’s local budgets, including athletics accounts and positions, which could cause some controversy as the next school year approaches.
For the past few years, Milford School District has been dipping into its contingency fund to balance its local spending. In March, the district sought a referendum that would supply $2.1 million to offset that spending through increased school taxes, a request that was rejected by local voters.
If the district continues with its current budget and deficit spending, which averages more than $1 million each year, the contingency fund will be depleted by the end of the 2015-2016 school year, with a negative balance of about $3,000, according to Milford School District Chief Financial Officer Tammy Korosec.
School board members are expected to vote June 23 on the elimination of 13 athletic positions, four instructional positions, one school resource officer position and several 20-percent cuts to department budgets where contracts or state funds are not concerned, including high school and middle school athletic budgets, building budgets, custodial and maintenance budgets and operational costs. Previously negotiated budgets, like salaries, which are scheduled to increase by 2.07 percent next year, cannot be cut without violating existing labor deals, according to Korosec.
Athletic Director Michael Tkach said the elimination of 13 athletic positions – assistant coaching positions for the majority of the district’s sports teams – might help the district fill its deficit, but those funds are coming from the limited contract budget, not from the Milford High School or Central Academy athletic budgets, which are slated to be cut 20 percent, or about $41,000 total.
Tkach said he also has been tasked with finding $22,000 from the athletics budget to supplement an athletic trainer position created earlier this school year.
“Our number one goal is not to eliminate any programs, but the harsh reality is when push comes to shove, we may not have any other resolution,” Tkach said. “Ultimately, we have to look out for the best for our kids, but unfortunately the reality is there’s probably going to have to be some cuts. It’s not pointing the finger at this group or that group. The reality is we’re in some financial strain right now.”
The district’s fiscal year begins July 1, and the board must make a decision regarding the proposed budget during the June 23 meeting, Milford School District Superintendent Phyllis Kohel said during a phone interview Monday evening. A final budget will not be approved until after the Sept. 30 unit count is finalized, Korosec said.
During the May school board meeting, Kohel also pinpointed three sports programs on the table for possible elimination: high school winter track, high school swimming and middle school and high school competitive cheerleading, which could save the district $7,000, $16,000 and $6,500 per year, respectively.
Any decisions regarding the proposed budget cuts will be made public during the June monthly meeting. But Kohel said in an email that the option of cutting the three sports programs, as well as implementing a possible “pay-to-play” option, in which student athletes in all sports would be charged $50 to participate, would be discussed, but not voted on during the June 23 meeting.
“At the last meeting, we said we were exploring the possibility of making those cuts,” Kohel said in a phone interview Monday evening. “They will be brought back up [during the June 23rd meeting] and the board will decide whether or not they want to carry cuts. If they don’t approve it, or if they choose not to implement those cuts, they have to make that decision during the June meeting. Honestly, they’re safer off cutting them, and if things improve, they could reinstate.”
Tkach said there is added pressure to make a decision because sports schedules are completed in two-year cycles, and if a program is dropped, he needs to inform DIAA and the Cape Henlopen Conference, as well as other schools, so that they can plan their seasons accordingly.
Swim coach Ellen Gorrin said she has no doubt Kohel and the board members will refrain from cutting the swim team.
“Obviously I have 100 percent confidence in the board to find the funds for it,” she said. “I trust they’re doing what they need to do to ensure the kids have what they need.”
This year, about 35 students participated in swimming, a sport that comes with $16,000 a year in costs mainly because of transportation and rental fees for the facility at the Greater Milford Boys & Girls Club, Tkach said. Both Kohel and Tkach said they are negotiating the rental cost, which may allow for the program to continue, but that final decision is still in the hands of school board members.
Nicole Gagliardi, assistant coach of the competitive cheerleading squad, argued that competitive cheerleading doesn’t cost enough to warrant elimination. During the May school board meeting, Kohel reported that competitive cheerleading cost the district about $6,500, and both Gagliardi and Tkach said this year’s team experienced an usually high number of concussions, which created other problems for the students, including missing school and added costs to homebound instruction expenses.
Gagliardi said only about 15 girls participated in both the middle school and high school squads, which are low participation numbers compared to when she was on the squad in the early 2000s.
“When we were in school, it was the heart of the school. That’s where the spirit comes from and the crowd gets pumped up,” Gagliardi said. “I just think it’s going to be very sad if the school doesn’t have a squad to compete.”
But Ryan Thomas, a state track champion who just graduated this year, said he understands if the district needs to make budget cuts, and said the elimination of winter track makes sense because the team has to travel out of state for practice and meets, with about 30 to 40 students participating this past season.
“I feel like if you want to cut a sport, that would be one of the ones they would do,” Thomas said. “I don’t think they should, but [I understand] if that bottom line comes to it.”
But he did disagree with the “pay-to-play” proposal.
“I don’t think they should [charge students to play sports],” he said. “People could miss their opportunity because of that – there could be a star who never got a chance because they couldn’t pay the money.”
The next regularly board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 23 at the Milford Middle School annex building.