Milford Board of Education ponders levy issue

The dilemma at Milford Schools appears to be deepening.

On paper, as many schools seek to increase enrollment and reap the state funding that comes with it, the booming student body seems like a bonus.

However, faced with a string of bond issue and operating levy defeats, the reality, said Valerie Miller, Communications Coordinator for Milford Schools, is an overcrowded district that’s finding less funding to operate school programs that many take for granted as basic parts of education.

Two meetings being held during the first two weeks of August will determine just what the school district needs to accommodate the surging enrollment, both in terms of operating dollars and buildings.

“The high school and junior high is the most critical part right now,” said Miller. “For the elementaries, we could probably make due for a few years. When you look at the enrollment numbers, if the bond issue passes, by the time you spend a year in design and two in construction, it’s already 2010 or 2011 before the schools are finished. You have to plan in advance, knowing that the kids will keep coming, and the crowding will get worse. You have to build now instead of in 2015 when the kids are projected to be there.”

Factoring in development within the district and the current rate at which students are trickling into the system, Milford Schools officials are releasing what they say are startling statistics pointing at an overall student body eruption within 10 years.

By the 2015-2016 school year, estimates place nearly 2,000 more students in the schools than are currently there. The problem? Milford officials say that the schools are already operating at above capacity.

“Enrollment projections grew from 7,500 students to 9,200 students, so they had to take that into account when determining how big things needed to be,” said Miller. “When they took into account the new student enrollment projections, they realized they needed more square footage.”

Miller said that the entire district is somehow affected by the growing student body. Some years ago, a bond issue passed by the voters in the Milford school district allowed for the construction of four new elementary schools. However, unexpected student body growth resulted in those schools opening their doors with more students than they could handle.

“This is the whole district,” said Miller. “There might be one elementary that is a little under capacity. The four new elementaries were built for 600 students, and there might be one at 560.”

However, the numbers in other buildings are not so accommodating. According to Milford Schools figures, the high school has 1,850 students in a space designed for 1,365. The junior high is equally cramped with 950 in a school for 650. An attempt at a bond issue in 2005 failed, and an operating levy in 2006 was similarly turned down by voters.

Now, due to the rising cost of construction, achieving essentially the same outcome from a new bond will cost over $42 million more, and $4 million in operating costs have already been cut from the budget after the operating levy failed. That, said Miller, could grow by an additional $3 million dollars if the new issue, which is expected to be a combination bond and operating levy, doesn’t pass.

“That will get more to the critical core of what our district offers,” said Miller. “You’re talking classroom teachers, transportation, athletics. It’s extensive. We cut $4 million, this would be $3 million additional. The only place left really is teachers, so they’ve estimated over 30 teachers. All of the kids would be divided up, which would make the classroom ratios so much higher.”

Miller added that combining how the costs of construction are rising and the time needed to complete the building project itself means tackling the issue now before the schools become physically too full to operate.

“The junior high and high school is a three year project,” said Miller. “Instead of having it in all in a lump sum like they did in 2005, they decided to break it into separate pieces to make a lower millage that would be more palatable to people. The district can no longer afford to wait because of student growth, and because every year, the cost of the same things goes up and up.”