Last Thursday night, (March 10), during the Board of Education (BoE) meeting, board chair Bruce Likly read a letter he had written in response to a Wilton family that had contacted him in support of the BoE’s proposed FY ’17 budget. That budget, which the BoE unanimously approved in early February and sent to the Board of Finance (BoF), is $80,972,640. It requests an increase (some might say a modest one) of 1.27-percent over the previous year’s budget. The BoF members questioned the BoE about the budget numbers, and have said that they may have to ask for cuts from both the BoE and Wilton’s selectmen on the proposed town budget.
On March 28, at 7:30 p.m. in Middlebrook Auditorium, the BoF will hold a hearing to present the Education budget to residents, and will ask for resident feedback on the budget. In this letter, Likly warns that if residents don’t come to meeting and speak out to tell the BoF what they want to protect and keep in the BoE budget, there may be cuts that go deeper than anyone expects. Here’s what Likly wrote in that letter:
We need your continued support but also your help.
Over the past 21 years, the average number of Wiltonians who have shown up to participate in town government and vote has been 1,858 (out of a voter pool of approximately 11,000).
On average, 642 of those voters vote against the budget EVERY YEAR. Last year, 688 voted against the budget which is well within the realm of the average.
What is frustrating and where we need your help, and the help of your friends, is this:
Over the same period of time, on average, 1,216 Wiltonians voted FOR the budget. But last year, only 602 of our citizens showed up to do so. Why?… Do they hate the job we are doing? Do they dislike our schools? Do they think cuts should happen? Did they stay away so they didn’t have to cast a vote one way or another on a building project? I don’t think so, but I have no proof. I think they were busy and felt their participation wasn’t necessary. What happens to us when the NO’s win simply because the YES’s don’t get out to vote?
Fortunately, because of our Town Charter, any time a budget is voted down when less than 15% of the voters show up it automatically passes — as it did last year. This is a not a good way to “win.” We need approximately 1,692 voters to show up to make up 15% and if history repeats itself, like it so often does, the budget will pass by a margin of 1,000 to 692.
Unfortunately, since last year’s vote, the Board of Finance (BOF) and Board of Selectmen (BOS) have essentially taken the fact that the actual number of NO votes exceeded the number of YES votes as a mandate to drive budgets lower. I like lower taxes as much as the next person, and this is all well and good in some cases, but when our teacher’s contract alone increases by almost 3%, and we have inflation to deal with, a 1.27% budget request is already an amazing feat.
KNOW THIS — unless we pack the Middlebrook Auditorium with 2000+ people on both Monday, March 28 at 7:30 p.m. and again on Tuesday, May 3 at 7:30 p.m. [for the Annual Town Meeting and Vote] the school budget WILL BE CUT by the BOF (because they think “you” want them to cut our current budget instead of raising taxes ~$400 a year — based on an average home value). And, the BOE will have a clear conscience in making those cuts. Not because we want to, but because the VOTERS TOLD US THAT IS WHAT THEY WANT by voting with their feet (which I don’t believe to be the case).
Right now, at a minimum, the BOF would most likely want to see us come in with a ZERO budget increase or a flat budget (remembering we have a 3% increase mandated in our teacher’s contract) — that means we would have to cut $1,016,000.
Where might that come from if voters don’t show up at Middlebrook at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, March 28 and Tuesday, May 3?
- $240K in cuts to the math program
- $ 80K for a Miller-Driscoll teacher (increasing class sizes from 20.8 to 22.3)
- $ 62K in cuts to the CM art program
- $ 146K in cuts to learning commons (library)
- $ 175K in cuts to technology & support (slow networks will stay that way)
- $ 97K in eliminating Freshman athletics
- $ 51K in eliminating all co-curriculars at Cider Mill
- $ 54K in eliminating all co-curriculars at Middlebrook
- $ 161K in eliminating all co-curriculars at the High School
$1,066K TOTAL (this doesn’t address the loss in revenues from participation fees)
In reality based on last year’s voting results the BOF would like to see the entire town budget flat (including bonding costs) so there are no tax increases, which would equate to a $2.5M CUT. If we go to a theoretical $2.5M cut in the BOE budget, we need to seriously consider the following costs to the District as we work to protect reading, writing, math and science:
Total cost of ALL Athletics (WHS): $1,166K
Total cost of music in the District:
Total cost of art in the District:
These are ugly realities and it bothers me greatly that I have to share them with people to compel them to participate in their town government.
But, the reality is, if people don’t show up to participate then the message they’ll be sending us is that they support eliminating costs in these areas.
If like me, you strongly support the budget, our schools and our town, I’d encourage you to attend these two critical meetings at Middlebrook School at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, March 28 and Tuesday, May 3.
Bruce M. Likly
Wilton Board of Education