The Milford school board will have to make some difficult budget cuts on June 23, but proposed cuts will not affect staff salaries, which are slated to increase by 2 percent in fiscal year 2015, as per the district's previously negotiated labor contracts.

The Milford school board will have to make some difficult budget cuts this Monday.

But none of those decisions will affect staff salaries. The local portion of the funding for those wages is slated to increase by 2 percent in fiscal year 2015, as per the district’s previously negotiated labor contracts.

“In order to keep ourselves competitive [and] to provide a decent education for the community, we have to have some incentives salary-wise, or who’s going to come to work here?” said Kevin DiCostanzo, a high school social studies teacher and vice president of the Milford Education Association for teachers and paraprofessionals.

The district’s three separate labor agreements with the Milford Education Association, cover secretaries, custodial and maintenance workers, and teachers and paraprofessionals. Each of those deals included a 2-percent increase in local funding for all union employees in fiscal year 2014, as well as another 2-percent hike beginning July 1.

An additional 0.07-percent increase is also included in the proposed budget draft for Fiscal Year 2015, which comes up for a vote by the school board next week.

That smaller increase is budget to cover additional pay raises based on years of experience, Milford School District Chief Financial Officer Tammy Korosec said.

The total 2.07-percent increase on the local funding for staff pay will increase the district’s overall salary expenditures by $188,389.

About 30 percent of salaries are covered by local funds, with the remainder covered by state funds, Korosec said.

“We have searched every avenue so that we can remain committed to giving our teachers the 2-percent raise,” Milford School District Superintendent Phyllis Kohel said. “We need to maintain quality teachers.”

In March, the district sought a referendum to supplement $2.1 million in operating costs and avoid a deficit. Yet that referendum failed, leaving the board to decide where to make cuts in order to avoid depleting the district’s contingency fund by the end of the 2015-2016 school year.

School board members are expected to vote June 23 on the proposed budget, which includes the negotiated raises, as well as the elimination of 13 athletic positions, four instructional positions, one school resource officer position and 20-percent cuts to several line items, including high school and middle school athletics, building costs, custodial and maintenance budgets and operational costs.

Kohel said additional staff positions could be cut or left vacant. She said at least two high school teaching positions, social studies and science, will not be refilled. A secretary moved out of state and will not be replaced, and another secretarial position will be eliminated. The district is also cutting one custodial position for a total savings on the local side of about $76,500.

“Cuts are necessary to maintain the level of quality education for our kids while meeting our obligations that were previously negotiated,” Korosec said.

If the district decided to renege on its union contracts to avoid the $188,389 increase, which Kohel and Korosec said is not an option under consideration, the district would have to take the issue to court.

Administrative positions and food workers are not represented by unions and any raises are decided in-house and generally follow the raises included in the union agreements, Korosec said.

The district currently employs 22 administrators throughout its six schools and district office, which make up 12 percent, or about $1.1 million of the local salary expenditures. The 46 food workers employed by the district are compensated through cafeteria revenue, Korosec said. Teachers make up the largest portion of the proposed salary increase, with nearly 300 teachers throughout the district representing 69 percent of the local salary budget, Korosec said.

Kohel said that out of Delaware’s 19 school districts, Milford ranks No. 17 for how it compensates its teachers. But according to the Delaware Department of Education’s list of average salaries for districts throughout the state, Milford’s $56,598 average salary for full-time teachers, which includes experience step-ups, is higher than Caesar Rodney School District, Capital School District, Lake Forest School District, Smyrna School District, Delmar School District, Laurel School District, Seaford School District and Woodbridge School District.

In Milford, the lowest paid teachers earn $39,573 a year, while the highest paid teacher, who has worked for the district for 38 years and holds a master’s degree with 45 additional college credits, earns $74,252. The district only covers about 30 percent of those salaries, which would equal a $11,871.90 local share for the lowest paid and a $22,275.60 local share for the highest paid educator.

The negotiated 2-percent raises including in the current budget proposal would be applied to the local portion of the salary budget, meaning that the highest paid teacher, at $74,252 per year, will see a salary increase of $465, Korosec said.

DiCostanzo said those negotiated raises don’t amount to much for each individual time. Of the district’s total 498 employees, a 2-percent raise will be realized as a few hundred extra dollars in each year, he said.

When the current union contracts expire June 30, 2015, it is unclear if those employees will see another raise.

“There have been times in the past where we’ve been negotiating really small increases – 1 percent – just knowing that if they don’t have it, we can’t shake it out of them,” he said. “We all understand the position the district is in. I’d rather forgo that increase and keep people employed than get an extra $10 to $20 in a paycheck and lose staff because of it.”