Last week, Wilton’s Board of Education unanimously approved the revised budget prepared by Superintendent Kevin Smith. He originally proposed an $84 million budget before the COVID-19 crisis, but revised that to $82,344,563 following a request from the Board of Finance for budget options that anticipated significant economic hardships for town and resident finances.

Wilton’s budget ultimately will be decided by the Board of Finance, rather than by residents at an Annual Town Meeting and Vote, as decreed by an executive order from Gov. Ned Lamont.

Tonight’s Board of Finance meeting signals the final phase before Wilton’s FY2021 budget will be set by June 4, one month later than was originally scheduled to happen.

The Board of Finance had asked both the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education to provide four budget scenarios:  flat (0% increase) to the FY2020 budget; and decreases from the FY2020 budget of -2%, -5% and -10%.

The $82.34 million budget approved by the BOE on May 7 represents the flat proposal requested by the BOF.

Smith achieved the request by reallocating $2.95 million in projected surplus from the current year’s budget:  $869,000 of that would be held in reserve by the Board of Selectmen for unanticipated costs related to COVID-19 and $1.178 million would be encumbered expenses.

[Editor’s note:  the district originally projected $3 million in surplus, but $50,000 was used as part of a contract settlement with STA, the bus transportation company.]

The BOE wants that reserved in anticipation of potential legal costs related to special education services that have been difficult to provide under current distance learning restrictions as well as other operational changes.

The board approved purchases in this calendar year to secure savings as well as avoid any delivery delays anticipated before the start of the next academic year. These included $800,000 for technology (including $300,000 for student Chromebooks and $318,000 for staff laptops).

The BOE also approved encumbering items up to $377,822–paying for them now in order to save on their cost next year. These items included art supplies, textbooks, training and transportation costs.

As part of the discussions, the board approved returning $903,740 to the town at the end of FY2020.

Board of Education chair Deborah Low said that the district can preserve programs, class size guidelines and staffing for next year if these recommendations were accepted by the BOF. She and the other board members believe that students’ needs will be greater next year following the distance learning and interruption of in-person teaching this year, and that cuts beyond what the BOE approved will not only fail to meet those needs but will “turn our system into something not recognizable.”

Smith said that, “Providing a Wilton education requires human and material resources. Our revised budget seeks to fund a Wilton education while also responding to the climate in which we find ourselves.”

Low acknowledged that climate and uncertainty, and said the budget needs to be maintained to address those things.

“Our students will begin next year with more needs than the usual summer-lag and we will adapt to where they are. Students will need support both in academics and in mental health. We can expect a combination of onsite and online learning, revisions to schedules and classroom structures, and possible continued interruptions and disruptions. Expanded health and safety protocols will be implemented.  There will be costs we have not yet anticipated,” she wrote in an op-ed submitted to GMW and published today.

Proposals to Reduce:  -2%, -5%, -10%

Reductions beyond a flat budget would result in reductions of certified staff members. Smith said that bringing the budget to 5% below FY2020–at $78.2 million–would mean eliminating 36.5 staff members.

At a 10% reduction–$74.1 million budget–would mean a staff reduction of 78.5 FTE.

One reply on “BOE Provides Flat Budget ‘Strategy’ to BOF; Any Other Reduction Leaves Wilton Schools ‘Unrecognizable’”

  1. Ms Low says “cuts beyond what the BOE approved will not only fail to meet those needs but will “turn our system into something not recognizable.”

    The fact is that the entire world (and especially our small corner of it) is not recognizable now and will not return to the old normal for a long while if ever. Everyone is being forced to readjust expectations (restaurants with lowered occupancy, movies and other group gatherings curtailed, businesses that will never reopen, etc.) to coincide with potential new realities.

    The BOE cannot be exempt from being required to cope with these unfortunate but unavoidable circumstances and planning accordingly should the least desirable outcomes occur.

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