The Milford public schools system has about 1,100 fewer students than it did a decade ago.
A student body of about 7,500 in 2003 has shrunk to about 6,400 in 2013.
To better understand what this means going forward, school officials last year hired a consulting firm to study population trends and this summer launched a committee that will eventually make recommendations to the Milford Board of Education.
“There’s a recognition that the enrollment is declining significantly,” said Superintendent Elizabeth Feser, who attributes the reduction to a 25 percent drop in Milford births since 2003, and adds that the birth rate is also declining statewide.
“We have 14 schools in the district,” she said. “ We have an opportunity with the declining enrollment to say, How do we want the school system to look in 5, 10, 15 years? Do we continue to stay as is with respect to number of buildings, the way we’re configured, what our curriculum and programs are or do we say, If we want to make changes, what would they be?”
The Long Range Planning Committee, formed in June, is currently fielding those questions. They are expected to put pen to paper and submit recommendations to the school board around the beginning of next year, according to Assistant Superintendent Michael Cummings, who serves on the committee.
Cummings said members met Tuesday and looked at the “lay of the land” as it pertains to the Milford public schools system. An overview of all the current facilities were assessed with pros and cons, he said, adding that the presentation should soon be available online. The group next meets Oct. 8.
Though enrollment has declined, the school budget has not. Even with cuts to personnel and the closing of a school, the Board of Education budget has grown from $83 million in 2010-11 to $88 million for the current school year.
School officials point to some $2 million in lost federal funding after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expired in June 2011 as a reason for recent budget increases.
“When those monies were given, they offset pieces of the existing budget,” Feser said. “The money was not added on top of the existing budget.”
The district chose not to use the federal funds to offer new programming but rather allocated the money toward staff positions. As a result, though, when the funds expired the bottom line increased without personnel cuts.
“We had to have some type of a (budget) increase,” Cummings said. “I don’t think we could have absorbed it all.”