At a meeting on Feb. 16, Wilton Board of Education members unanimously adopted the FY 2024 school budget proposal made by Superintendent Kevin Smith. Smith’s final total budget ask is $90,581,692, which reflects a 4.5% increase ($3,903,830) over this current year’s budget.
Smith revised his numbers twice during the budget development process. His first pass produced an initial year-to-year budget increase of 5.99%; by mid-February, district officials were able to revise it once again and bring it down by $1.07 million to a 4.75% increase.
Now, Smith’s second cut brings his final proposed budget to this 4.5% increase, which will be the numbers that the BOE will present to the Board of Finance. In addition, this budget proposal will be presented at a public hearing on Monday, March 27 designed to allow Wilton residents the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback — comments the BOF members will be eager to hear as their job will be to formulate a final overall budget proposal to bring to the town at the Annual Town Meeting in May.
[Editor’s note: The Board of Finance is also conducting a survey in March to solicit opinions from residents and voters about the budget. It is scheduled to launch on Monday, March 6, and the town will send an e-alert asking for people to take the survey. Visit the town website to participate when the survey begins.]
At the Feb. 16 meeting, Smith acknowledged that his final budget proposal now includes a reduction of 9.0 FTE staff members at Middlebrook School in the Language Arts Department. “I had assumed … a reduction of seven [FTE] and held two in the budget; I’m revising that now,” he told the BOE members.
Other adjustments made in this round included finding additional savings in athletic transportation costs as well as discovering that the original proposed pre-K tuition revenue did not include a price increase for next year.
The board members all expressed their regret that the budget process means job reductions and cutting teachers.
Pam Ely said the staff cuts are the “roughest part of the budget.”
“You’ve done an admirable job keeping with the core values of what this district represents. But when we’re cutting people, then that diminishes a lot for me. Teachers are our best resource. So when we’re struggling with what to do and that has to happen, there’s a certain reality to what we have to do, but it’s also a sad thing for us,” Ely said.
Nicola Davies suggested that declining enrollment at Middlebrook hasn’t been accurately reflected in staffing in the past decade.
“No staffing changes have been made at Middleborough while they’ve had 175 [students] we’ve lost in the last 10 years. It was going to happen. It’s regrettable, but it’s reality.”
BOE member Laura Schwemm said she was greatful for what the budget still does include.
“It’s really impressive what we’ve retained. When I was a teenager in the early 80s and art and music were drastically cut. It’s just great that we are able to provide a well-balanced education for our students and continue to do that for the future,” Schwemm said.
BOE Vice Chair Jennifer Lalor said there are still other places in the budget that would like district administrators to consider for additional cuts, even after the board votes to adopt it.
“I still want to look at Helping Hands [Preschool], I still want to look at pay to play, look at clubs and stipends and those kinds of things,” she said, later adding that in the future, the board should also consider looking at administration positions.
“It’s going to be harder to cut teachers moving forward if we have all of our administrators and extra whatever. So just something to think about,” Lalor said.
Board Chair Ruth DeLuca said some things “were hard to reconcile.”
“There was definitely a time that we would sit around this table and say, ‘4.5 [percent] — what’s the new initiative? What are we doing?’ And the reality of our current fiscal situation is we’re holding steady. We’re preserving our program and maintaining our values and our mission. It’s hard to reconcile with when you have that 4.5 [percent] in front of you.”
But, DeLuca added, she felt the budget “provides a balance” and “preserves the classroom and the system at the same time.”
Upcoming Budget Dates
March 15: BOF meeting to details both the Board of Selectmen and BOE budget proposals
March 21: Public hearing on BOS budget
March 27: Public hearing on BOE budget
April 3: BOF begins its budget deliberations
April 3: regular BOS meeting to approve bonding referendums
April 11: presentation of bonding referendums to BOF
April 11: Deadline for BOF to recommend a budget to bring to the Annual Town Meeting
Tuesday, May 2: Annual Town Meeting; voting begins
Saturday, May 6: Adjourned voting