BREAKING NEWS:  At tonight’s Board of Education meeting, happening right now, Wilton Schools’ superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith is presenting the first pass at the FY’18 school budget put together by the building administrators and Smith’s central office team. It reflects a 0.00-percent increase over FY’17.

According to materials handed out at the meeting, the 2016-17 adjusted budget stands at $80,569,905, and the presentation the superintendent will make this evening shows superintendent’s request for the 2017-18 budget at $80,569,905. It reflects a staff request of 572.34–down from 584.24, or a decrease of  8.10.

Early this year the Board of Finance gave the district a guidance not just to come in flat but actually of reducing the budget year-to-year by 1.25-percent.

BoE chair Bruce Likly started the meeting with a statement commending the district administrators.

“I could not be more proud. I know it wasn’t easy. I know Dr. Smith asked each of you to turn every stone, to assume there are no secret cows, to assume it’s not business as usual. I know you looked at class sizes. I know you looked at everything. I want to commend the work that you did, and I recognize it wasn’t easy. It’s something you should really be proud of, across the district in education and technology and support services, it’s truly, truly commendable.”

Glen Hemmerle, the BoE member who, along with fellow BoE member Chris Stroup, sat on the operations subcommittee with two members of the Board of Finance, and has worked closely with them on budget objectives, acknowledged the intense work it took to get the budget to this stage.

“It has been a labor for Dr. Smith and his staff,” he said. “We recognize the guidance that was given, however the presentation is slightly above that guidance. We feel comfortable in the presentation we’re going to make. We’re focused on protecting what happens at the classroom level, and it has not been an easy task to get to the number. We on the committee feel strongly that if we go beyond what you see today it puts a great deal at risk of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Superintendent Smith started his presentation by saying, “We were working up until late last night to finalize this. We had been working for months with the understanding that the BoF and the BoS are trying to manage the mill rate increases, and we believe as the largest consumer of taxpayer dollars we need to be strong partners in that work. That being said, we have committed to a pretty aggressive educational reform agenda, and we need to make sure we’re meeting our priorities and maintaining a very high standard of public education. We had to make an effort to balance educational needs and priorities with the need to help manage the town’s finances.”

Among the highlights:

  • The district has been able to accomplish savings through a reduction in salaries, through a reduction in staffing and thanks to a number of retirees “who will be replaced with less experienced teachers who come with less expensive price tags,” Smith said.
  • Since FY’15, there’s been a net loss in enrollment of 260 students.
  • In that same period, there’s been a decrease in staffing of about 25 total staff members, which according to Smith, “has tracked enrollment reductions.”
  • Smith said that through savings and their work on the budget, they’ve been able to absorb the $1,000,000 contracted salary increase for the teachers.
  • Smith pointed to what he called “good news”:  “In student outplacements, we’ve been working to bring students back to the district, and we’re looking to have fewer than 30 students outplaced,” a number Smith said was lower than it’s been for a long time.
  • However, Smith pointed out a change over the last few years in SPED transportation, noting that the number increases year over year–”dramatically” despite efforts on the part of the district. “We’re still seeing an increase.” From FY’15, that line item increased from $731,019 to $1,008,907for FY’18.

We’ll have more on this story Friday.