Milford schools seek extension to referendum timeline

MILFORD — While Milford School District has gotten a green light from the state to seek community support for a new middle school, it may not be going out to referendum just yet.

The district is working with the Department of Education to seek “approval of epilogue language” that would extend the expiration date of going to the community for monetary support of the project, Sara Croce, chief financial officer for the district, said at Monday’s school board meeting.

“We will be working through the governor’s recommended budget process, which will produce a budget and bond bill in January, to find out if we are successful in having approval of epilogue language to modify the expiration date of the certificate, and then, we’ll come back to the board to discuss a plan and a path forward for approval by our community,” she told the board.

Each year, districts submit certificates of necessity to the state, which basically ask if districts can seek a referendum and, ultimately, the community’s approval to fund capital projects through tax hikes.

If the epilogue language is approved in January during the budget process, the district likely won’t be going to referendum within the year to fund the middle school project. Rather, it would hope to hold a referendum some time in the next two years — an extension of the typical one-year-deadline — to fund the project.

The proposal in question is revisiting the former Milford Middle School, which closed indefinitely due to maintenance and health concerns about six years ago.

The property, located on Lakeview Avenue, would hopefully be used for a thousand-student middle school for fifth and sixth grades. The new middle school would address population growth in the district.

“It really felt like it was important to go ahead and move forward with the certificate of necessity and the acknowledgment of the need and the growth that we’ve experienced here in Milford at this time,” Ms. Croce said.

The total cost of the project would be about $57 million. The local portion would be about $14 million.

The Milford Middle School Steering Committee, formed in 2018, has sought to determine what the community had in mind for the vacant building. At a meeting in 2019, the public expressed interest in the school remaining as such with the help of renovations and additions.

In September, the school board voted to submit the CN again, after it was denied by the state the year previous (a familiar story for other districts in the state).

Typically, if a CN is approved, it will be good for one year, meaning the district can hold at least two capital referendum votes to get the project approved. But the district is hoping to extend that timeline.

“We really also have to think about what’s fair for our community. When is that time that’s most appropriate for our community, especially in the times that we’re in right now?” said Superintendent Dr. Kevin Dickerson.

He added that the district’s attention needs to be focused on educating students amid COVID-19.

“We just really need to be delicate, I think, and really be wise and really be thoughtful for our entire district community how we would proceed with this process,” he said.

Reach staff writer Brooke Schultz at bschultz@newszap.com