At our March 9 meeting, the Board of Education unanimously adopted a proposed 2021-2022 school budget to present to the Board of Finance. We believe the budget both supports next year’s needs and is fiscally responsible.
Before approving the budget, the Board reviewed Superintendent Kevin Smith’s proposal during public workshops and meetings. Working with Dr. Smith, some items were eliminated or reduced, a Middlebrook renovation project was deferred, staffing reductions because of lower enrollment were confirmed, and a few estimates were refined. Importantly, with the announcement of the new federal ESSER II grant during the process, we were able to move qualifying staffing requests to that grant.
The resulting school budget proposal is $84,804,215, up $2,459,652 (2.99%) over last year. The request comes after two years of flat budgets and a seven-year average increase–including this request–of 1.05%. It reflects the costs of salaries and benefits, contracted services (includes transportation, technology, and certain special education services), purchased services (includes out-of-district special education tuition, staff training, and conferences), digital resources and supplies, equipment, and utilities. It aligns with the BOE budget goals approved in January of support for post-pandemic learning recovery and social-emotional needs, a focus on top program priorities, and the continuation of the district’s strategic plan.
We must prepare for the post-pandemic school year. This year our schools provided students an exceptional education under extraordinary conditions. The pandemic, as we all know, forced the implementation of radically different learning models. Our exceptional faculty and staff delivered excellent instruction in remote, hybrid, and in-person formats while ensuring students’ health and safety and providing individual support.
Although we can celebrate our overall amazing success given the circumstances, we also are mindful of the possible learning loss, learning gaps, and social-emotional stress that students have experienced. Although we look forward to more normal conditions next school year, we need the resources for accurate assessments and robust support for COVID recovery. Because each student experienced this year differently, it is important we fit the education to the needs of the individual. The proposed budget provides K-5 classes at the lower end of our usual range; adds a math interventionist at Cider Mill (ESSER grant-funded); adds a part-time STEM coach at Wilton High School (math focus); and adds a half-time social worker at WHS for mental health support (ESSER grant-funded).
In addition to COVID recovery, the budget supports our top program priorities by implementing the next steps in our math improvement plan; refining our literacy program; addressing the achievement gap between general education and special education students; and increasing attention to mental health needs. Resources, some of which also support COVID recovery, include the math interventionist at Cider Mill (grant-funded); an updated Level One Algebra course at WHS; part-time STEM (math focus) WHS coach; curriculum development, staff training, and new assessments in phonics and phonemic awareness; continuation of Teachers College literacy training K-8; training for the RULER program (promotes social-emotional health); a mental health assessment at WHS; and the half-time WHS social worker (grant-funded).
Finally, the budget supports our long-term strategic plan. We have defined the desired attributes of a Wilton Public Schools graduate to be “a contemporary, multi-literate scholar; a courageous ethical leader; a creative entrepreneurial designer; a self-navigating expert learner; an active, socially sensitive citizen; a balanced, healthy human being.” To develop these idealistic, aspirational attributes, we work to match them to real curricular and instructional practices in our classrooms. This requires funds for curriculum development, assessment design, on-going staff training, and regular implementation of new and revised course proposals.
The Board was unanimous in approving this budget proposal because it supports next year’s unique post-pandemic needs, matches our program goals, and is financially prudent. We hope you can join our presentation at the Board of Finance public hearing on Monday, March 29 at 7 p.m. via Zoom. We encourage you to share your opinions and comments.
Wilton BOE Chair