As a Milford school board member for the past 6 years, president for the past 2 years, Finance Committee member for 5 years, member of the Business Advisory Council for 2 years and active community member/volunteer currently and prior to being elected to the BOE, I have an extremely good working knowledge of our school district’s operations and costs.
The following is a rough evaluation, based on facts and reasonable assumptions, to show the financial impact Don Lykins’ priorities (taken from his campaign website, mymilfordschools.com) would have on the district. The first section outlines the additional cost of each to the district; below that is a description of each. Note: none of these ideas has been proven to increase academic performance; even when research is available, there is significant conflicting information.
The numbers below are estimates based on factual information about current costs and projections based on reasonable assumptions. These are not absolute numbers, and could be higher or lower (likely higher) than presented. They are within a reasonable range for understanding the impact of these concepts on the Milford Schools budget.
- Reduce class size by a little over 2 students/class ave. to match average of several other local districts: $4,000,000/year+ (this will also require building two additional elementary schools because of the increase in number of classes)
- Move 7th grade to Milford Main: $392,000 (plus approximately $10 million renovation costs)
- Remove food “outsourcing”: $400,000/year
- Raise substitute teacher salaries: $85,000
- Hire more teacher aides: $1,100,000 (to increase the number of aides by 50% – I chose this number, as he does not identify how many more aides he believes we need)
- Change JH/HS start time to 8-something from 7:15 am: $2,000,000+/year (plus significant other soft costs)
- Eliminate Open Enrollment: $900,000+
Total Annual Operating Cost Increase: $8,877,000+, equivalent to an ADDITIONAL 10 mils on the ballot (this is over & above the mils the district will need to put on the ballot in the future to continue current operations). Instead of stretching the operating levy from 3 to potentially 7 years, we would need to pass another operating levy next fiscal year (if we implemented these ideas in 2016-17). This does NOT include the construction amounts, which would have to come from a bond levy (build two new schools plus $10 million in renovation).
Comments on Ideas:
- Reduce class size: Don suggests that Milford reduce class size from an average of 19.6 to the average of several other high-performing districts’ average of 17.3. What is interesting is he lists Mason as one of these districts and includes them in the average computation – but Mason’s average class size is 19.27, basically the same as Milford’s. In addition, as mentioned above, there is conflicting research on how much reducing class size truly helps academic achievement, unless classes are very large – which they are not at Milford. See Gary Knepp’s previous article on class size. There are many, many factors that contribute to overall performance, and Milford has been on a steady upward trajectory.
- Move 7th grade to Milford Main: Don believes we should split the junior high because it is “too large.” There is no evidence to show that separating these grades would have a positive effect on learning; it would, however cost quite a bit, as we would need additional administration to run a second junior high, as well as increased transportation costs to take some students to another school. I have included extremely conservative estimates for transportation; the number is likely to be several hundred thousand, at least, higher than what I included.
- Remove food “outsourcing:” Don does not understand Milford’s food service operations at all – our food service is not “outsourced;” in fact, it is 100% in-house as an enterprise fund. Our food service department provides services to several other schools, which results in them earning a “profit” every year. An enterprise fund is limited in how profit can be expended, but it can repay the district for the administrative expenses it uses as part of the district. This is the $400,000/year that would be lost to the district’s General Fund if Don implemented his plans. Also, because of the unique structure of our food service, Milford’s food prices have been kept at just about state minimum pricing – prices are almost guaranteed to increase if we were to use a different system.
- Raise substitute teacher rates from $80 to $100: First of all, Don does not know what we are paying substitutes: the current cost is $85, which was raised from $82 two months ago. We have not been at $80 for years. He claims we are at the low end for subs; we are actually in line with most districts, including Wyoming, Indian Hill, Deer Park and Bethel-Tate. We have not had any issue with attracting substitutes, and we are procuring good-quality subs for our students.
- Hire more teacher aides: The district does not randomly hire aides and put the same number in each school – instead, we evaluate specific student populations and needs, and assign aides based on those needs. As with class sizes and his other ideas, there is no indication that more aides will increase student achievement. Since he does not specify how many aides are needed, I chose 50% additional as a good starting point.
- Change JH/HS start time to 8-something from 7:15: Don is very interested in starting school later as studies have indicated teens need more sleep. No one is arguing this – of course our teens need more sleep! – but a good question is if a shift in time will simply shift bed time later as well. What we do know for sure is there are several issues with moving the start time later: 1) transportation costs will skyrocket, as we will need to move to a two-tier system from three tiers, increasing our cost by at least $2 million (probably more, but this is a good place to start); and 2) Milford will not be able to allow our students to participate in many extracurricular events, as they take place too early for students to get there if school is let out an hour later.
- Eliminate Open Enrollment: Don claims Open Enrollment is “ballooning” class sizes – but this school year, there are only appr. 153 Open Enrollment students throughout the district – an average of 11.5 students per grade. See Debbie Marques’ article on Open Enrollment & class size. Open Enrollment is used to “fill holes” when a class is a little smaller than others and bring in extra income that is used to help all our students, plus reduce the financial needs from our community. Some grades at some schools have no Open Enrollment students, when there is no room; others may have several, when the class size is lower. Eliminating Open Enrollment would cost the community appr. an additional 1 mil.