At the Wilton Board of Education (BOE) meeting on Thursday, Feb. 17 — following a lengthy and impassioned (but relatively orderly) public comment period on the decision to lift the K-12 mask mandate — the BOE members heard an updated FY2023 budget proposal from Superintendent Kevin Smith and voted unanimously to adopt it. As Chair Deborah Low put it to her fellow board members, “now it’s our budget.”

Low summarized the discussions leading up to the meeting, recapping that in the process of fine-tuning the proposal, the BOE had held three workshops as well as a joint meeting with the Board of Finance (BOF), in addition to meeting twice on its own.

Smith then outlined the most recent revisions to both the operating budget and operating capital proposals.

Operating Budget Proposal Revisions — Reductions

  • Defined Benefits: This budget line was reduced by $112,000 based on updated estimates from the actuary.
  • Document Digitization: This budget line was reduced by $55,000, which will require delaying the broader digitization effort for an additional year.
    • However, the district will complete the portion of the project already underway, working to digitize special education records in preparation to participate in the state’s new Individualized Education Program (IEP) digital system.
  • Transportation Contracts: This budget line was reduced by $60,000 after a renegotiation and extension of the bus contracts.

Together, these changes reduced Smith’s original FY2023 operating budget proposal to $87,112,862, an increase from the 2021-2022 budget of $2,283,647 or 2.72% — down from 2.99% in Smith’s first draft.

Operating Capital Proposal Revisions

  • Elevator Replacement Plan: This budget line, part of an ongoing project, was inadvertently excluded from the original proposal and needed to be added back in.
  • At the advice of Chris Burney, Wilton’s Director of Facilities and Energy Management (and until recently, Director of Public Works, Facilities and Energy Management), Smith removed budget lines for flooring replacement at Middlebrook Middle School in favor of conducting a subfloor study that will inform a likely future replacement.

Together, these changes reduced the operating capital proposal from $610,000 to $458,202, representing an increase of 0.54% from the current year’s operating capital budget.

In total, Smith presented a budget totaling $87,571,064, an increase of 3.26% from the 2021-2022 budget.

In prior meetings, Smith had outlined the major priorities for the 2022-2023 school year that impacted the coming year’s budget, which included:

  • Addressing unfinished learning and supporting social-emotional learning and trauma-informed instructional practices
  • Raising overall mathematics achievement
  • Facilities improvement projects at Middlebrook and Wilton High School, including HVAC ventilation systems
  • IT hardware replacement plan
  • Program and curriculum development connected to the Portrait of a Graduate

Vice Chair Ruth DeLuca asked whether the subfloor project at Middlebrook could be a bondable project, a question that Smith said he hoped to get further clarification on soon. He noted that the next tri-board meeting should deliver more clarity.

Smith also recapped a proposal (previously approved by the BOE) to change the way the BOE capital operating budget is managed, as part of a goal to get both the Board of Selectmen (BOS) and Board of Finance — as he put it — “further invest[ed]” in maintaining the school facilities and buildings.

“For years, the capital operating has been contained in the BOE operating budget. The problem for us is, if we get the funds and we can’t complete the project, those funds go back to the town in a given year. One of the opportunities that we’ve discussed with the BOF and the Board of Selectmen (BOS), if we could add a line to the BOS operating capital, they have a five-year time horizon in which to complete a project.”

Smith is hoping officials on the other two boards will agree with him and the BOE that they’re just as vested in making sure the town-owned school buildings are maintained properly.

“Philosophically, the town and schools have a list of substantial facilities needs and right now they’re treated in isolation,” he said. “I think it would be more fruitful if they were looked at together and collectively we can commit to a plan to address them over time. Within that, make the determinations about what needs to be in an annual operating budget — kind of pay as you go — and what can be bonded over time. Looking at the whole list can help us make those choices and a timeline.”

Smith also noted that the BOS has supported the proposal and approval from BOF would be the final step.

Doing some back-of-the-envelope math, Low praised Smith and his staff for the budget revisions.

“It’s looking like a $379,000 reduction in total ask, which is pretty impressive given how lean the budget started,” she said. “I think this is as lean as we can make it and still accomplish our goals.”

DeLuca agreed but added, “I am growing increasingly concerned about the trend of the last five years or so. I worry that we’re getting to the point where we’re no longer going to be able to advance and service our goals and mission if we keep carrying on this lean.”

Low noted with relief that this recent round of reductions included changes like the defined benefit adjustment, which was simply a matter of accounting, and the transportation contracts, whose savings came from renegotiation.

Board Member Pam Ely motioned to approve the budget, which was seconded by Board Member Jen Lalor and passed unanimously by the Board in a vote of 6-0.

Looking Ahead

Before adjourning, Low noted that the next regular meeting of the Board of Education would be Mar. 3 and that Feb. 28 would likely be announced as the tri-board meeting on the capital operating and possible bonding issues that had been discussed. She also mentioned that the Board of Finance has set Mar. 23 as the public hearing date for the Board of Education budget.