MONDAY, MARCH 20—Beginning at 7:30 p.m., GOOD Morning Wilton will be live blogging the Board of Finance‘s public hearing on the Board of Education‘s proposed FY’18 school budget.

Follow this page for live updates from Middlebrook Auditorium tonight.

There’s a chance that Wilton Educational TV will be live-streaming the meeting via YouTube as well. Check out the WE-TV YouTube channel around 7:30 p.m..

Of course, the best view is always in person, especially if you want to tell the Board of Finance members what you want or don’t want in the budget. The meeting will be called to order at 7:30 p.m..

Update 7:25 p.m.:  WE-TV is broadcasting live HERE.

We’re live, Jeff Rutishauser chair of the BoF just opened the meeting. Is introducing the BoF members.

Rutishauser characterizes the BoE budget as the lowest ever, and commends Kevin Smith and the BoE. Reminds that there is a decline in school enrollment. “Will be a management challenge to adjust staffing and services, and plan until it stabilizes and turns around for the future.”

Pension is 91% funded leaving a $9.9 million net liability. Other revenues are down $850,000, mainly from the state cut of educational cost sharing grant–down $1.2 million to this year will be zero.

Moody’s reaffirmed Wilton’s AAA bond rating.

Tax relief for elderly remains at $1.1 million.

Debt service is up 2.6% due primarily to bonding the construction at Miller-Driscoll.

Rutishauser points out a decline in state aid–we’re budgeting for $1 million less, primarily to the loss of the Education Cost Sharing. That doesn’t even account for $4 million in state teacher pension shortfall.  If governor’s proposal does get passed, we will need to convene an additional town meeting to figure out how to cover that.

Evaluating the operating expenses, the BoF is focusing on efficient staffing and headcount control.

 

If we didn’t change the mil rate, we’d be $1.877 million short, and the only way to make up that shortfall is raising taxes or reducing expenses.

7:45 p.m. Bruce Likly is starting his presentation

Important to understand where we’ve been and where we’re headed.

Driven by the Vision and putting it into a theory of Action.

It’s what we do 24/7, 365. I talk to staff on weekends, holidays, vacations, they live and breathe this.

“Wilton demands a focus on Excellence, and your school district is delivering that. Everyday we see students and staff focusing on today and being better in the future.

Accolades:

Likly is most proud of Newsweek’s ranking of WHS number 2 in CT and number 56 in the US. When you look at test scores there are blips along the way–we use that info to make our systems better and better.

Not everyone does as well. We are legally obligated to provide services for all learners, some who need special education from age 3-21. We have a legal obligation to attend to those kids and a moral obligation. Some have talked about our preschool. You don’t ship a little kid away, you try to give them an education here. I don’t understand the heat–I think it’s appropriate we provide the best education for these kids.

The Community Steps program:  It used to be that we didn’t have options for kids 18-21 to allow Wilton students to stay here. We’re working on bringing those services in house, as it’s more productive and cost effective.

Student Achievement:

We’re not asking for a penny more than we spent last year. The year previously, if you look at those numbers with some special education costs, we’re actually asking for less. This is a tribute to staff looking at the economic situation in the town and administrators looking at declining enrollment. We’re reducing our headcount in line with enrollment, and reacting to those numbers.

The BOE’s contractual obligations are going UP by approximately 3% (this represents over 75% of our budget).
The BOE’s budget request is ZERO meaning we are cutting headcount and other areas to keep the budget flat. Our transportation costs are going up 3%. Our benefits are going up 3-5%. We’re looking at shifting some transportation and bus schedules. We’re also shifting some benefits so they’re only going up 1.6%.

Per pupil expenditure is going up only $200.

 

 

We’re trying to provide more transparency. Some items have been shifted from one category to another between years, so comparison between accounts this year may be difficult.

They’re making an effort to track the numbers more effectively.

Even though we’re at zero, I’m incredibly proud of where we’re headed. We’re investing in people–our largest cost but our best feature.

Teaching expertise, the teaching rubric is changing and kids are changing. Just 10 years ago the iPhone was invented. Look at how technology has changed–how the presentation is being streamed. So much is happening, we have to move the entire staff to understand that and leverage that. When I joined the Board we only had a handful of SMARTBoards and only a handful of teachers had computers. Today, every class is connected to every corner of the world. We have a 5th grade French teacher teaching students with a class in France. We need everyone thinking that way.

The coaching model to put in place is to help teachers move to an advanced level of education that didn’t exist when they got out of college.

The Universal Design for Learning:  we need to change and adapt to give our kids the best chance possible. The coaching model brings professional learning every day of the week, instead of a couple times a year.

[Prior to the meeting Likly distributed the following document to describe UDL]:

It also requires us to rewrite our curriculum. We have an aggressive program, working to rebuild where we’re headed with curriculum. It’s akin to rebuilding an airplane on the runway flying at 30,000 ft.

Also improving how to understand assessments. We think we’re on the right path, but if we’re not, we’ll change. But without measuring how we’re doing we’ won’t be able to know if we’re doing a good job.

We’re expanding the STEAM program, transitioning the Library Learning Commons. New math courses.

We’re expanding school climate. It’s a different level of stress, and we have to reach kids on so many new levels. What kids are bombarded with is so different, and we need to understand that.

The thing I’m most excited about with this budget is to move to 1:1 computing. That every child can walk in the door with a computer in their hands. Through reallocation of resources, from HS on down, and leveraging resources we already have. And a BYOD program at the High School. Our job is to build the highway, but not provide the car. If families can’t afford, we have ways to compensate.

This is what we’re putting into our school system this year. We’re economical, providing great education at zero increase. But the flip side is it’s akin to what you’re spending in research and development. Look at Ridgefield which last year put in over 6% increase and this year is second highest in our DRG.

I believe this is one of the best school districts in the country and we will prove it.

Every number, the budget is on the website.

Questions:

Alex Ruskewich:  what is being spent on education is 3x the cost of living since 2004. a senior citizen gets a dollar, you take $3. The town is for everyone, not just the school system. We found out, the actual amount we’ve spent, another study said from 1996, Wilton is the third in the state in the amount per capita they’re spending on their budget. We’ve been spending. We have been doing things, in spite of the fact that enrollment is not growing and projected to drop dramatically. But yet we want to continue to spend the way we did before. This is an untenable situation. If we continue to spend like this, you’ll end up with more people being chased out of town.

People say the schools are why people come here and buy property. Have you seen all the for sale signs? How many people have been trying to sell for over two years. This is the reality. I did a calculation, people who lost $140,000-$310,000 on their houses. One reason is how much in taxes you pay here, you become non competitive.

When you have a study done by the school, where they recommended after a fee of $200,000, that you reduce some people and you haven’t reduced them. You have the same in the budget this year as you did–you haven’t reduced. We have four times the number of psychologists than the national average. Are our kids a little more loopy? Why do you need four times? The other specialists, you have the same problem. That’s one area.

Another area of potential savings, when I look at legal expenses through FOIA requests. We spent $300,000 fighting FOIA request, fighting citizens who have a right to the information. A competitive bid for legal team, having the same legal team is one of the problems we have.

Why is it the board of education didn’t realize for 6+ years that numbers they were putting in the budget were not accurate? You never had 78 students in the preschool. The citizens said, that’s why we have to spend the money to increase Miller-Driscoll. Now we have a school bigger than we need, and we’ll still be paying this for 20 years. Can you explain why the BoE didn’t know this?

When you take a look at the number of 75–the number of students and divide that by the cost of the department, you get $15,000 per student. But if you divide it by 38, the actual number, it’s $30,000. We don’t put that calculation in the budget anymore, it disappeared. To me this was Enron accounting–you shuffle that around. Since when do you not include benefits with salary in the personnel costs. We expect the citizens of the town should have the information so they can make a reasoned judgement about what you’re doing.

I’m not arguing about the quality of the education. But at what price?

We have to stick with the -1.25% reduction.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Calico Burton:  I want to read the vision, how we want our students to graduate internalizing compassion and empathy.

I want to address something that was just said about children.

I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask if our students are a little “loopy.” It’s not something someone should say about our children, it’s not empathic.

Deborah McFadden:  I have a concern about our taxes, as everyone does. Taxes are not the responsibility of the BoE. Our town needs to grow our grand list. I appreciate the 0.0% increase.  I appreciate you keeping our schools up to date on the latest technology. It is because we’re keeping our educators up to date that our children are doing and achieve, and attributable to what you’re doing with the resources you have.

I think it’s ironic that Alex is talking about legal fees since some of those fees were generated by him. If we had fewer people bringing legal action against the schools we would have lower legal fees.

I oppose Pay to Play. I appreciate the district trying to keep special education children in district as much as possible. Having had a special education child I appreciate all you do to help.

I realize things are more complicated with the difficulties at the state level, and we have such uncertainty, what the state is foisting on us is inappropriate. I will convey that to the state.

I support this budget wholeheartedly.

Tom Curtain:  Very informative, wonderful presentation. About the teachers:  This town has really, really good teachers. Well educated, bright, notwithstanding they’ve been here 20-30 years, I’m sure they’re quick learners or we wouldn’t have them teaching here.

There’s a lot of call for input, it’s good. It’s one to ask for input, it’s another to get the output from the input. There’s a failure on officials to respond to what people are asking. Last year a question was asked of DR. Smith about $2 million on technology. Didn’t have the answer. Nothing wrong with that. but $2 million sounds like a big number. The question was never answered. Do we have to spend the same amount of money.

You’ve done a good job keeping the lid on. But I’m reminded about “Death of a Salesman,” none of them are going to starve. I think you can go into the budget and find more room. You’ve come in at 0.0%–but 0.0% on top of what?

Mr. Likly, you sent an email about a “microcosm of nay-sayers.” It wasn’t collegial. Your fellow taxpayers are asking questions, they’re not naysayers.

I’ve been reading about coaches–the teachers need to be coached? That boggled my mind.

[Mr. Curtin is criticizing UDL]

In this environment there should be no increases. You’re doing a good job, but there are places to cut, and you need to look at the efficacy of what I consider to be a pilot program–UDL.

Katie Wilbur:  Thank you all, this is an arduous process.

I’m here to advocate for the physical education program at the high school. I understand they could drop 1-2 physical education teachers. They do things they’ll use for their lives–golf, yoga, pilates. The kids need the stress relief, they need to get outside. To reduce any budget of the phys ed is not a good precedent to set for these kids. The kids are more alert, awake because they have PE. I’m hoping nothing gets lowered or adjusted from the PE budget at the HS.

Rutishauser reminds about procedure:  We have one number that the town votes on, and then any spending decision is made by the BoE. That’s by state law.

Rebecca Lepage:  I have three children in the district. It’s really important to speak in fact and not anecdotal evidence at presentation like these. Two years ago, I sold my home at asking price within 24 hours of putting it on the market. and I didn’t take a bath.

I have to speak to the school psychologist issue. I’m a pediatrician. One of the biggest crises facing schools right now is mental health services are woefully undersupplied. Increased rates in teen suicide, violence and bullying in schools. It is recommended that school psychologists increase.

I think we should thank our district rather than criticize for taking care of our children.

The preschool:  the number 38 keeps getting thrown around. I had children during that time.

I don’t have a problem with people asking questions, but people should use facts.

I don’t understand why we’re talking about overspending in 1996. I have three children in this district. Raising them and getting them educated is my number one priority. I don’t think we should punish our children because we were overspending 10-20 years ago. They are entitled to an education. Because we overspent in the past, doesn’t mean we have to underspend for these children now.

Michael Spiro:  My experience. We moved at the end of 2013, we have 3 children in the district, we moved for the schools. Yes the taxes are higher, but it’s still a good value proposition for your money. It’s incorrect that softness in the real estate market is taxes. What would cause softness is if the schools aren’t competitive.

The only thing that worries me is that we’re not spending the same as other districts. Education outpaces the cost of inflation. But for kids, it’s not an elastic demand. It’s important that our kids get the best possible education. There’s cold comfort in being told they’re “not going to starve.”

I hope you will vote to approve the budget.

Kevin Moran:  Moved here 4 years ago for the schools. This is the right fit for us. I’m grateful for what the wonderful teachers do. As a father of four, we have no greater responsibility that they are educated to the best quality we can. I want to go home at night, look them in the eye and know we’re providing the best education we could.

If Dr. Smith would have said he needed more, we would look to where we could cut to support it. This is the right way to spend it and I hope it gets passed.

Laurie McCabe:  I’ve lived here since 1998. I have 4 kids, 2 in college, 2 in high school. My older two kids were prepared well. Don’t leave my younger two kids or other kids short of the finish line by cutting the budget. Don’t make cuts so our kids have to punt. Let them all benefit from this great school system. I support our schools. Any additional cuts are risky and dangerous to our students.

We’re asking for a 0.00% increase. To those who have had children who have gone through the system, please allow our children the same advantages that yours had.

Kevin Meehan:  I get the fiscal situation, it’s bad. If you go for the -1.25 you’ll look at everyone in the eye about taxes. But you can’t look people in the eye–these cuts are deep, changing the quality of what we’re able to do, changes how we teach. We’re not serving our kids. It’s not accurate to say there’s a ton of wiggle room and they’ll find the cuts. It will make a difference, it will impact the kids. If you look at the kids who go to college from our district, they are well prepared and holding their own.

Maybe the budget won’t show up in HS but it will show in elementary school. If we cut let’s be direct and tell people we’re going to take a hit on quality. There’s no fluff in here and it will make a difference.

[unclear] Cunningham:  Listening to what’s happening in Hartford, I looked at the peer towns, and our expenditures per student are better. That our taxes are higher isn’t a BoE problem it’s a larger tax base problem.

The BYOD initiative.  My son was in a private school was in a BYOD environment, and it’s been a detraction coming back to the district. It will help.

Richard Berghaus:  Thank you Dr. Smith about your meetings last week, he opened avenues for anyone who had questions.

No one is sitting on their hands on this board. As hard as it is for my son to learn he loves learning because of the team he has.

From just the last six years, we’ve gone from chalk to smart boards to chrome books. This is where the world is going. We’ll be left behind if we don’t.

The taxes are the quality we have. The biggest issue is the grand list. We are in a town to have the businesses to come in and pay the bill. A 0.0% budget is unbelievable. That’s not where the focus should be.

Kevin Hickey:  I get concerned with the voodoo economic numbers I’m hearing. This $4.3 million in overall outplacement. When I requested a redacted release statement, we came up with $2.3 million. All I’m asking for why we’re spending [unclear] per student.

Tony Musilli:  I’m a 6th grader. Please don’t cut STRIDE or music. Don’t eliminate the grade system–I work hard for my A. Last, what are you doing for accelerated students?

Maggie Feltz: I hope you pass the budget. I moved here with my sister, we are two women who believe we have an ethical duty to educate all the children in our town. In full disclosure, she is an educator and now an administrator here.

Delivering my child 2 months early, his arm was the size of your pinky. When he came home, he made big strides in the preschool. But he is a challenged little boy. He requires the services of a psychologist often to understand the world around him. I know he is a child that requires a lot of services from the school. We believe in providing services for children at every step of the way, from Special ed up to high achievers.

Steven Hudspeth:  What a trifecta of the three speakers–Maggie Feltz, Tommy Musilli and Kevin Meehan. You get a full idea of what our schools do.  Hearing a 0.0% increase is extraordinary. I couldn’t believe it, especially with salaries that have to go up.

We have, by everyone’s acknowledgement, a gem of a school system. They’re fragile, especially when you have an extraordinarily good one. They’re the top, cream of the crop. When it’s fragile, the risk is it devolves. When you take funding away from the system, you jeopardize all that’s been built over many, many years, and you’re playing with fire.

What the governor is doing is an outrage, and the legislators understand that.

It is quite fundamentally small numbers, but small numbers are critical when you’re talking about 0.0%. That’s where you play with a fragile system. If you cut, when other towns are increasing, you’re playing with fire. That does so well that will fall apart if we aren’t very, very careful. To me the choice is simple:  preserve the system, don’t let the fragility take away from what the town has spent so many years to accomplish, and what the educators have brought us over the years and of what we can be very proud and thankful.

Sarah Curtis:  I haven’t decided if I would vote for or against. I like to get the facts. One of the issues I have is that I haven’t been able to obtain information that I think anyone should look at in deciding for or against. It’s not always the total dollar amount that I would vote on, it’s the value. I’m not questioning the value of the system but I want to understand if the dollars are being used wisely? Are you considering recommendations that have been made, in terms of savings that are available? How are you managing your business? Last year I was very critical, because year upon year upon year, the board hasn’t been able to provide to Wilton or to the BoF information that’s been constantly requested.

This year I’ve sat in on meetings where the discussion has been we don’t have the numbers. ‘We’re trying to get the information we need.’ I’ve heard the town CFO say “we can’t get the numbers.” Here we are again, with the board not doing the job that it should. Just when it comes to very simple financial management. I have to question why, after so many years, you still can’t deliver what you have promised:  there is no 5-year plan.

I will not vote for a budget when year after year you refuse to provide the information.

The second thing is, I don’t have a child in the school system, but too many times, over the past couple months, where unsolicited, I’m hearing more and more from parents, and I have seen, I’ve watched a high school child melt into tears, and say, “I give up. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t get the help I need. My teacher won’t help me.” Another child, whose parent described them as absolutely demoralized, they have a student who is bright and energetic and has always done well. But as part of this “self-learning” journey, no student in the town of Wilton should have to drop out of extracurricular activities because their teacher has told them, “I’m not allowed to help you, it’s up to you.” No student should take a test and fail and go back to the teacher and say, “What did I do wrong?” “I can’t help you. You have to learn that yourself. But here’s a tutor you can go to.” So their parents can pay for that tutor. Even the tutor said, “This is completely unfair. Too many tricks and gotchas. It’s not a fair assessment of what you should have been able to learn.”

Another child who thought they should be able to pursue their passion, and yet again was told by their teacher, you just don’t have the skill sets for this, and you should be going into a lower level because you can’t do this. This is a student performing at straight As moved to a different teacher.

When I hear parents frustration say, “I can’t help my child. His teacher refuses to help.” I truly don’t know what we’re paying for. I understand it’s a costly program to implement. I’ve been to meetings, I”ve listed to principals, and curriculum people, all seem to be drinking the same cool-aid. You have kids stressed, coming home from our school, who are demoralized, losing their confidence, giving up what they love to do after school, giving up what they thought they would become, because they’re being told, “No, we won’t give you the answer, you figure it out yourself.” I can’t accept that.

Bruce Likly:  Has asked for the specifics…

Sarah Curtis:  We have great teachers, and we have teachers demoralized because they’re not allowed to help the kids. If a program is worth every penny, if it helps kids become independent. But it seems to be such an issue with children and parents who feel helpless to aid them.

Mary Jane Reis:  Since we’ve devolved into anecdote, my husband who has an MBA in finance, thinks this is a transparent budget. I understand some info about SPED students can’t be revealed and has to be redacted.

From my babysitter’s experience, we have wonderful, bright, happy articulate kids who are pursuing their dreams. I would take some anecdotes with a grain of salt. I’m offering my anecdote to the mix.

Jim Kineon:  I fully support the budget. One reason we moved here was for the school system. To come in with a budget that’s a 0.0% increase. I would ask next year that we increase the budget so we can continue to provide the experiences our students need to compete in the world around us.

Marianne Gustafson:  We understand the dynamics, we had a children with an IEP 504. I think our schools have done a really great job. We came here for the schools and the quality of life, the amount of house we could get. We were known to be efficient. Great results with efficiencies.

As I’m listening to some of the experiences Sarah shared, I have heard many of the same. The same situation with the coaching the children are so frustrated. We don’t want the frustration to be the result of learning. Teachers need to be available, doing their jobs. I’m hearing about changes, and when I hear a math coach say they need to be frustrated, I get concerned. I can give you examples.

The District Management Council report on p. 29 identified $2 million of savings that could be achieved just by scheduling therapists. That’s telling me we’re really overstaffed. $1.97 million annually that we could be and should be achieving. The same report was used to support and create $2 million in expenses for the coaching.

Great teachers can learn, so I don’t understand when we have 11 new administrators at a cost of over $1 million, and I”ve heard a lot of experiences that have not been good.

Legal costs:  We need to take  a look at some new legal counsel. We shouldn’t have to wait months and months. We shouldn’t be spending money to go up for FOIAs to try to decrease fines against a school employee.

I can imagine going thorough this is a lot of work. We’re all on the same page, we want to make this the best it can be. Making it efficient makes it available to more students. When we have low-lying fruit from best practices.

Carolina Corrigan:  Value:  I have 3 girls in the system:  One on the autism spectrum. When my daughter first came in she was non-verbal at 3 years old. Now she’s a 6th grader and she’s thriving. Talking almost independent. She requires a lot of support, but the teams have been absolutely amazing. Our family can’t be more grateful. We know it’s expensive.

When you talk about value in education, When IDEA was enacted in 1975, in 2012, 35% of youth with autism now attend college, and 55% have held employment during the first years in high school.  Whatever we’re spending–it should be diligently–but when people talk about value, it may be a little more now, but our kids can be educated.

Frank Wong:  I’m not sure how I feel about the budget. I don’t know if I”m not supportive because it’s too high or too low. I’d say the same about the BoS budget.

What I would like is a choice is how to vote. Maybe it shouldn’t be a unified vote anymore. It’s developed, presented and seen separately, and maybe the town should be able to vote separately.

Jeff Rutishauser:  The charter says we have to have a unified budget.

Wong:  I disagree.

Summer Downey:  I have 3 children, two are in the Wilton schools, one is still in preschool. As a mother of young children, it is difficult to come to these meetings as a young mother. I hope you don’t see the lack of attendance as that they don’t care. It’s very difficult, between carpools, getting kids to bed, it’s a lot. People genuinely care. There’s a lot of support for the schools. I 100% support the budget. I hope people continue seeing the value of the schools–it is why people move to Wilton.

We moved from Rowayton, and we wanted more value–bigger house, and great schools and that’s what we found in Wilton. If our school quality decreases, there won’t be a lot of reasons for young families to move to Wilton. It’s extremely important to maintain what we have because that’s the greatest value that Wilton has.

***

Rutishauser:  I want to thank the media for a lot of coverage this year. We’ve had back and forth with Hartford, and they’ve done a good job bringing you information.

Thank you for civil discourse.

And come next Monday, for the public hearing on the Selectmen’s budget.

Meeting adjourned at 9:29 p.m..