With less than 48 hours to go before Wilton’s Annual Town Meeting, town officials are getting ready for the unexpected, anticipating possible motions from the floor challenging the current proposed budget that would most likely target the increase proposed by the Board of Education.
At its meeting last Thursday, April 28, the BoE acknowledged the rough terrain ahead on its path to getting the town to pass its proposed FY ’17 budget. Already, the Board of Finance has reduced the BOE’s requested increase by $400,000. Now, the budget will face challenges not only from residents who seek further reductions but continued upheaval in Hartford over the battles to settle the state budget—with consequences that will very likely impact funding to Wilton.
At last week’s BOE meeting, school officials and board members acknowledged that they’re trying to stay one step ahead although it seems like they’re really in a situation of playing catchup. Superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith told the Board that he and school administrators are working to respond to the BOF’s directive, looking where they can find $400,000 in the FY ’17 budget to cut or defer.
Smith said the priority for the budget is to protect academic work in the classroom, so every effort is being made to maintain classroom resources.
“We need to protect the resources that we are directing to our instructional improvement program. We have committed to this concept of hiring math interventionists, so we are not slating those positions for a reduction.”
BOE chair Bruce Likly concurred, calling classroom resources “sacred cows.”
However, Smith said, administrators are looking at other areas where they didn’t expect to have to make funding changes: staff positions, technology and supplies. “We’ve gone back and looked again, are there are any materials that we had planned for purchase that we can defer another year or find a way to do without them.”
Acknowledging his past statements warning that cuts may have to come from sports, arts and music, Likly once again brought up other areas that the BOE might have to consider, depending on what happens with funding from Hartford. He added that the Board has discussed hiring freezes and changes in class size are considerations.
“We don’t know what the state’s going to do so there is nothing that’s not on the table,” he said, adding, “We don’t know what’s going to happen, there’s nobody out there that knows what’s going to happen, but my feeling is that there will be cuts.”
Likly noted that whatever administrators wind up have to adjust, cut or defer from the budget won’t be determined until after the Town Meeting.
Despite earlier friction with the Board of Finance during the budget process, Likly said officials from all three of the town’s major Boards are trying to work together to approach whatever comes out of Hartford.
“I’ve been in conversation with the Board of Finance chair [Jeffrey Rutishauser] and the first selectman [Lynne Vanderslice], and we’re in agreement, I believe, that we will try to collaborate as three boards to figure out how to deal with that,” he said.
As for what will happen at the Annual Town Meeting, and the possibility that there will be a floor motion to reduce the education budget even further, Likly said whether such a motion would pass or fail would be determined by a majority of Wilton taxpayers at the meeting, hinting at something he’s explicitly stated before: “We need members of the community who support our schools to turn out en masse to reject attempts to reduce our budget, and to protect our investment in our schools.”
Hartford Update: Dems’ Proposed Budget Would Restore ‘Some’ of Wilton’s ECS Funding
The budget sturm und drung in the state capitol continued last week. Following the budget proposed by Governor Malloy on April 12, which completely eliminated the $1.557 million Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant Wilton expected to receive in 2017, and the April 26 release of the GOP plan which completely restored Wilton’s ECS share, the General Assembly Democrats—the majority party—released their budget proposal on Thursday, April 28.
Under the Democrats’ budget, Wilton’s ECS allocation would be $667,524. Whether or not it will make it far enough to be considered for a vote, let alone pass, Malloy has said he won’t support this budget.
The only thing certain is that, at this point, there’s nothing certain at all.