During last night’s Board of Education meeting, BOE members Glenn Hemmerle and Deborah Low reported back to the full board about discussions the Business Operations Committee has had in preparation for Budget Season, which begins in January. Hemmerle and Low sit on Business Ops with Board of Finance members Richard Creeth (outgoing) and Peter Balderston.
Metrics Comparison with DRG Schools
The Business Ops committee is putting together a comprehensive report comparing the Wilton Public Schools to other towns in its District Reference Group (DRG), the grouping of schools with similar demographics as categorized by the state BOE. The report is being crafted to compare Wilton to the other districts using a set of metrics measuring education spending, student achievement and town financial/demographic information.
The reason, Hemmerle said, is to collect facts in order to “dispel a lot of the rumors, dispel the conjecture in the conversation that’s out there as we move forward with the budget.”
One of the findings that Hemmerle called “telling” is in the area of per pupil spending, something he said gets a lot of attention during the town’s budget setting period. “There’s so much conversation in the community about per pupil spending, ‘It’s outrageous, buh, buh, buh,…’ Ten years ago we were 6th in our DRG for per pupil expenditure in education. Ten years later we’re still 6th in our DRG for per pupil spending. We have not changed. We are still 6th. We’re right there where we were 10 years ago, in the same position.”
He added that all towns have increased their per pupil spending. “If we’re going to stay competitive, which has a tremendous impact on property valuations, the quality of the school system. We’ve got to be competitive. Not blowing the cap off, or an extravagant amount.”
Hemmerle said that the committee has tried to figure out what elements are important to the town as officials begin to look forward to crafting next year’s budget.
Superintendent Kevin Smith added that some of the other comparison points the report will include are median household income, per capita tax, home values, staffing ratios, and student achievement. While complete numbers and findings won’t be shared until January, Smith gave a preliminary idea of what the effort is showing.
“We’re neither the highest or the lowest. We’re tracking very closely, with maybe a couple of exceptions, in just about every indicator,” he said.
Low said that the data will be more robust by January when budget conversations begin.
“It could increase public confidence in that we do have an efficient well run school system that’s deploying its resources wisely, and compared to other districts we are not being profligate spenders. That we look really healthy and are getting a lot of return on investment,” she said.
Smith acknowledged another rumor that periodically gets whispered–that Wilton Schools “peaked in the 1990s.”
“It was a comment that was made, and the context is that there are some in the community that have a belief that student achievement was highest in the 1990s and it’s declined since then,” he explained, adding that he found a data that, “very plainly showed that’s not the case.”
BOE chair Christine Finkelstein called Wilton Public Schools “a great story.”
“As these metrics come together and the information that Dr. Smith is talking about, as we get it finalized and put together, we will be very happy to share that with the public. Wilton Public Schools are the jewel of the community and people in the town should feel very comfortable and proud of the school system.”
Comprehensive Facilities Survey
Hemmerle said that the Business Ops Committee heard from school and town facilities director Chris Burney that a comprehensive survey of all school facilities and buildings is underway. The purpose is to develop a long-range plan for any capital and operating improvements that are needed.
While Hemmerle said the survey is not yet completed, he called it “a major first step to get our hands around what to expect as we move forward.”
As an example he cited the three elevators in the high school as being original to the building, which opened 48 years ago. “At some point in the very near future we’re going to be facing replacements.”
He also said a survey like this–one he called “exhaustive”–hasn’t ever been done by the district.
Preschool Tuition Increase
The third topic of recent discussion for the Business Operations committee was tuition for typical peers who attend the preschool. Hemmerle said that after comparing what Wilton’s current tuition rate is, the committee will recommend that the price be increased to match that of other preschools.
The current tuition for the 2019-2020 school year is listed as $7,500 ($8,300 with an extended-day option). The price increase they will recommend was not specified.