UPDATE: Monday, Mar. 26, 10:30 p.m.–Below is the live blog from the Board of Finance Public Hearing on the Board of Education FY’19 Budget, that took place Monday evening. It has been updated with some information provided after the meeting’s conclusion.

Approximately 45-50 people attended the hearing.

ORIGINAL STORY–It’s crucial to have a say in how the Wilton municipal government spends your tax dollars. Tonight (Monday, March 26) is the Public Hearing on the Board of Education budget for FY’19, at Middlebrook Auditorium, starting at 7:30 p.m..

The BEST thing you could do would be to attend the meeting and let town officials know what you think of the BoE’s proposed budget. But if you can’t be there, GOOD Morning Wilton will be live-blogging the Public Hearing on the Board of Education budget for FY’19. Tune in tonight on Monday, March 26 at 7:30 p.m., right here.

7:33 PM  We’re starting, and BOF chair Jeffrey Rutishauser takes the mic. He says he will provide a “short overview of the Town’s financial position and the projected mill rate.”

“Prior to the Mill Rate deliberations, Total Funds Requested for both town and school budgets is up by about $3.05 million, or a 2.56% increase over last year.

“On the Revenue side, the Grand List is up 65 Basis Points over last year. What this means is that we had an additional $718,000 of tax revenue due to Grand List Growth to offset the rise in budget expenses.

“That means that we have a Budget Deficit of $2.33 million, or 1.95% of the budget.  This deficit can be closed by budget cuts, tax increases or a combination of both.

“This year, the Board of Education is requesting an increase of $1.8 million, which is a 2.24% increase over last year’s budget amount. The BOE budget reflects the continued decline of enrollment that is similar to surrounding towns.

“The Board of Selectmen is requesting an increase of $293,000, or 0.88% over last year’s budget.  We are grateful to the efforts of the Board of Selectmen for coming in well below the BOF Guidance target of 1.5%.

“Tax Relief for the Elderly and Disabled will be increased by $50,000 to a total of $1.15 million but this increase is not reflected in these numbers today.  The increase will be submitted to the Town Meeting in May as part of the overall budget.”

Rutishauser says the BOF is grateful to the BOS for coming in under the 1.5% recommended guidance, at a 0.88% increase. He has no similar praise for the BOE.

“The General Fund Balance, essentially an accumulation of past budgetary savings and one-time “windfalls” – will be set at 10% of the Operating Budget.

“This reserve is required by Moody’s for the Town to maintain its AAA rating, enabling the Town to borrow money at the lowest interest rate possible.

“Other highlights include a solid performance of the Pension Fund investments so that the Pension Plan is approximately 96% funded, leaving a net liability of $4.1 million

“Other Non-Tax Revenues are down by $287,000, due to the continued decline in municipal and educational aid from the state.

“Debt Service is down by over $845,000 , a decrease of 7.2% from last year as fewer bonds were issued than were retired

“And Moody’s, a major bond rating agency, reaffirmed Wilton’s Triple-A rating on the most recent bond offering last February.”

The BOF considers all four things, including voters’ views expressed at the hearings and direct communications with the BOF. Let the BOF know what your thoughts are on the proposed budgets.

“As to the last point, the Board of Finance assesses the resources and financial condition of the Town, including our determination of revenue sustainability.”

“As to assessing the levels of debt, we need to recognize the significant increase in debt service, primarily due to the Miller-Driscoll redevelopment project.  At this point, we have issued all of the bonds to finance the redevelopment of Miller-Driscoll and in this coming year, we will see debt service drop for the first time in  five years.

“As mentioned before, maintaining a AAA rating from Moody’s is a top priority of the town.  To do that, we are required to maintain at least 10% of annual operating expenses as reserves in the General Fund. This required reserve amount is $12.9 million, and is generally invested in investment grade short and intermediate term securities.

“In addition,  we monitor the unfunded pension liability.  After a few years of strong investment performance, the pension plan is 96% funded.

“As to Operating Expense, we evaluate budget requests relative to prior years.  We focus heavily on staffing efficiency and headcount control, particularly in organizations that are changing in size like the school system.”

The next slides tell the story of the town’s financial situation:

“At the top you can see the major components of the operating budget, totaling $129.2 million, a 1.0% increase over the current  year.

Offsetting these budget expenditures are two items:

  • A $4.5 million contribution from non-Tax revenue and
  • a $2.6 million drawdown of the Fund Balance in excess of the necessary reserve level.

This reduces the amount needed to be funded down to $122.1 million, a 2.56% increase over last year. 

At the top of this page (above) we see the figures carrying over from the prior page.  Here’s the $122.1 Million FY19 Budget request, up 2.56 % over last year.

Next we see the impact of the Grand List that provides an additional $718,000 using the current mill rate.  So if we didn’t change the mill rate, we would be $2.33 million short between our budget requests and available financial resources.

So that is how we come to the $2.33 million shortfall.  At this point, there are only two ways to close this gap – budget cuts, tax increases (essentially raising the mill rate) or a combination of these two.

This chart assumes no budget cuts so that the entire shortfall is rolled into a tax increase, raising the Mill Rate by 1.95% over last year–or 1.99% if we include the increase to the Tax Relief for Elderly and Disabled residents.

Future dates in the budget process:

On April 3 and 4 the Board of Finance will meet for the deliberations on the budget and the setting of the mill rate.

Finally, we will hold the Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday, May 1 where the Unified Operating Budget and Bonded Capital projects are presented to the citizens of Wilton for their vote. There is an additional voting day on Saturday, May 5 as well for those who could not attend the ATM.

And now Christine Finkelstein, Bd. of Education chair, will present the Bd. of Education proposed budget.

She says, “it’s an honor to present the proposed budget unanimously approved by the Board of Education.” She thanks the Board of Finance for putting in hours to understand the requests and operations of the schools.

Presenting in Middlebrook, Finkelstein says she is reminded of when she was PTA president at the school. She says she used to read passages from the (then) new book about Wilton by former first selectman Bob Russell.

One passage stood out:

“This passage dates back to 1944, when town residents were debating a proposal to join Weston and Redding in creating a regional high school, and quotes local architect Donald Douglass, who summed up town sentiments when he said:  “If we put our dependence on the state and compromise with other towns, I fear that we will condemn ourselves for all time to the average, which is all the state wants.  It’s not good enough.”

She says she cites the passage because:  “I think it’s indicative of the strong passion Wiltonians have always felt about our schools. While education has certainly evolved over the years, the one constant has been the desire of Wilton’s taxpayers to have a high performing, academically rigorous school system, that would prepare our students for success, which has long-included ensuring our students are competitive in gaining acceptance to the nation’s best colleges and universities.”

She shares examples of how we continue to raise the bar and continue the tradition of academic excellence.

And something recent of which we are very proud. The Wilton Public Schools will be presenting three proposals this summer at the International Society for Technology Education – ISTE – annual conference. ISTE is the gold standard with regard to technology-centered thought leadership.  Any district would be proud to present a single proposal to an ISTE audience.  We have been invited to present three.

  • The Wilton High School Class of 2017 had 6 national merit semi-finalists and 18 commended students.  A member of the class was selected as a 2017 U.S. Presidential Scholar, and another was chosen as a 2017 Connecticut Governor’s Scholar.
  • The average ACT score was 27 compared with a national mean of 21.3
  • SAT scores averaged 1227, versus a national mean of 1031

In terms of our district reference group, which is the group of 8 socio-economically similar towns the state combines us with for comparisons of student achievement, our SAT scores are highly competitive.

Last year 417 students were enrolled in our 24 Advanced Placement and 6 Early College Experience Courses, with 290 students enrolled in multiple courses.

Of those students who took the end-of-year AP exams, 87 percent scored a 3 or better, and 152 were deemed AP scholars.  To be considered an AP scholar, a student must obtain a score of 3 or better on at least 3 AP exams.

And 47 percent of last year’s graduates were accepted to “Most Competitive or Highly Competitive Schools,” as categorized by Barron’s.

  • The Wilton High Band and Chorus brought home gold medals at last spring’s music adjudication competition.
  • Our Model Congress received the best delegate award at competitions held at both Yale and Harvard.
  • Our undefeated boys ski team is Class S state champion and several other athletic teams reached FCIAC and/or state championship or semi-finalist level.

This high level of achievement is also seen in our lower schools.

Middlebrook, our nationally recognized Blue Ribbon School was #3 in the state in terms of student performance on the Science CMT, and #3 in our DRG  based on English Language Arts SBAC scores.

Our elementary schools, Cider Mill and of course our beautiful new Miller-Driscoll are each recognized by the state Department of Education for academic achievement.

“One of my favorite things about our district is MDTV,” Finkelstein says.

Student reporters and commentators report on that day’s important news, which of course includes a daily shout out to students celebrating birthdays.  It’s a great way to unify the community and share successes.

“It’s important to celebrate our students and the hard work that goes into these accomplishments, and recognize all the ways our investments are returned. Your investment is producing solid, measurable results.”

Now, turn to the budget:

“approved unanimously by the board. A 2.24% increase over existing levels and our 4th consecutive lean budget.”

Last year we held our budget flat and asked for no increase.

The year before, 2016-17 our budget increased by 0.77 percent, and the year before that, by 1.98 percent.

Budget Assumptions:

  • Teacher salaries are projected to increase by 3.06%.
  • Administrator salaries are projected to increase by 2.025%.
  • Custodial salaries are scheduled to increase by 2%.
  • Insurance costs will increase by 6%.
  • Transportation costs will increase by 2%.
  • And enrollment will decline by 36 students, or 1.0%.

Our enrollment projection is based on numbers from the New England School Development Council. We believe these numbers have historically been the most consistently reliable, and these are the numbers we use for all our projections.

I am aware that some in our community use other numbers – some which show dramatically sharper drops in enrollment.  But as the group in town who tracks enrollment most carefully, our school administration relies on NESDC numbers.

Even at that, it’s worth pointing out that as the opening of school approached last summer, we became aware that 40 more students would be showing up on the first day than our models had projected.  Many of them were third graders, and we were forced to add a third grade unit at the last minute.

While enrollment projections are useful as a guide, we should keep in mind that they are not an exact science.

For 2018-2019 school year, we project 4,022 Pre K-12 students, down 36 students, less than 1.0%. We expect the decline to continue for the next few years.

In 2020 for example, enrollment is projected to be 3,957, which would mark a 2.4 percent decline over current enrollment levels.

Historically this continues a decline that began several years ago.  We can see that in 2013, we enrolled 4,311 students.  And again, projected enrollment for next year is 4,022.  So over the 2013-2018 period, enrollment has declined 6.7 percent.

“Where will the reductions take place? It would be easier if all those reductions happened in the same grade level. Instead they are all spread across the schools, with a slight increase at MB. This will enable no significant staff reduction.”

No matter how many students decrease, certain fixed costs stay constant, including turning on heat and lights.


Seven new courses at WHS.

First, the good stuff, which builds on many of the initiatives that have been introduced over the past several years.

This begins with seven new courses proposed for Wilton High School which include:

  • Civics and the Contemporary World
  • Honors World Literature
  • Aerospace Engineering, which is the newest course in our Project Lead the Way STEM suite, and which was selected based on student interest.
  • Advanced Public Speaking
  • UConn Early College Experience English
  • UConn Early College Experience Advanced Spanish Conversation and Composition
  • UConn Early College Experience Individual and Family Development

With these courses, the number of AP and College-credit level courses offered through Wilton High School will expand to 36.  This means a Wilton student has the opportunity to graduate with a considerable amount of college credit.

This budget also includes a second teacher for our growing number of students for whom English is not their primary language.  Did you know that we currently have 33 such students who speak 10 different languages?  Right now we have one teacher to assist all 33, which is clearly insufficient.

Adding a second teacher will benefit these students, and have a positive effect on the classroom environment overall.

The budget continues to invest in our teachers.  None of our amazing accomplishments would be possible without the men and women who have dedicated their professional lives to our students.

By investing in our teachers, we ensure they remain well-versed in current instructional methods, and better able to deliver the type of one-on-one learning that really defines 21st instruction.

We invest in our teachers in several ways:

  • Through our coaching model, which is a best practice in high-achieving school districts nationwide, and which was expanded in Wilton three years ago,
  • By providing access to best available professional development opportunities including off-site seminars and workshops, and by bringing renowned experts to Wilton to work with teachers during professional development days.
  • The biggest piece of that pie is staffing, which accounts for 61% of the budget.
  • After that, Insurance and Benefits accounts for 17%.
  • Purchased services such as electricity and transportation account for 11% of the budget.
  • Professional services including legal fees and consultants account for 7%
  • Supplies and materials account for 3%
  • Property Services is 1%.

Spending reductions–slight in insurance and benefits due to claims reductions. Also multi-year maintenance efficiencies lead to savings, equipment savings because of deferred expenses.

And within each category, we can drill down and see where our budget is changing:

  • Contractual salary obligations will increase 3.23% and it is 83% of the overall increase.
  • Professional services will increase by almost 5%, due to increased costs associated with technology leasing.
  • Purchased services will increase by almost 2% due to phone system costs and an increase in liability insurance costs.

We will also see spending reductions in some categories:

  • This will include a slight reduction in insurance and benefits due to recent claims history and increased savings in Other Post Employment Benefit contributions.
  • We see more than a 24% reduction in Property Services, due largely to multi-year maintenance efficiencies
  • And spending on supplies and materials will decrease by 1.6%, while equipment spending will be down almost 5% because of decisions to defer purchases on items including library books, textbooks and furniture.

With contractual obligations, and fixed costs like power and transportation accounting for almost 90 percent, you can see, there really isn’t must of the budget pie left.

Included in the numbers are Special Education costs. We have made efforts to reduce costs, including recommendations from DMC.

Several of the recommendations from the DMC report have been adopted to fit the specific needs of our community, and are bearing fruit.

  • We are more efficient diagnosing at an earlier age and providing earlier intervention services that will hopefully avoid the need for special education services later on.
  • Since we know that reading is the fundamental building block to all student learning, we have increased our investment in qualified reading specialists at the early elementary level.
  • We have streamlined the process for the hundreds of PPT meetings that take place each year between parents, administrators and special education professionals.  This has resulted in less staff time spent away from students, reduced the need for substitute teachers and cut down considerably on the amount of paperwork generated for each meeting.
  • By bringing some formerly out-sourced services and personnel in-house, we have been able in some instances to avoid the extremely expensive alternative of outplacement to a private school.
  • Our director of special education services has launched an initiative to develop staffing ratios that will be implemented over time across our district.  That initiative will certainly draw upon DMC recommendations for guidance, but will be tailored to the specific needs of the Wilton community.

That said, the DMC report was never intended to be a step-by-step blueprint for finding millions of dollars in special education savings, as the study’s authors have told us repeatedly.

We are pleased with the good direction the report has provided, and will continue to take its recommendations to heart in looking for savings within the special education department.

The schools have implemented cost containment efficiencies.

  • Most bargaining unit members are now enrolled in a new high deductible health plan.
  • outsourced technology functions,
  • pursue synergies with the town (building facilities director Chris Burney, town CFO Ann Kelly-Lenz)
  • negotiated savings with unions
  • Preschool redesigned to be able to keep more children in district, and deliver services required by law, as well as attract more tuition-paying typical students.
  • Community Steps keeps older special education learners in district with instruction and work experience, right here in Wilton

We continue to monitor staffing needs. Our budget staffing need is essentially flat with the current staffing level.

Since 2015 we have reduced 18 positions. The overwhelming majority of staff are certified professionals, that touch students on a daily basis. Administrative and secretarial positions have remained staffing. Other categories are being reduced:  custodial, paraprofessional and support staff.

The elimination of the Director of Finance position is noted as well.

Some in our community have asked why staffing has not declined in proportion–or faster–with enrollment decline? Education doesn’t work this way. WE are dealing with living, breathing students. Corporate staffing models are not easily adaptable to education environment.

Our Miller-Driscoll staff reports an alarming number of our youngest learners who are presenting anxiety and mental health issues previously not seen at that level.  We see this across the district.  When you read headlines about America’s stressed out high school students, or about opioid addiction or alcohol abuse or the breakdown of families, please don’t think Wilton is immune to this.

We have had to refocus the work of our guidance and mental health professionals to address these increased social and emotional needs. Wilton is certainly not unique in facing these challenges, but we as a community must understand that we are making these investments, and that in many instances, it has prevented staffing reductions.

Another important consideration is the simple fact that education is changing.  We staff differently now.  As we embrace 21st century learning, we must adapt staffing to accommodate positions that simply didn’t exist as recently as 4 or 5 years ago.

These positions include:

  • Curriculum coordinators
  • Math Interventionists
  • Reading Specialists
  • Safe School Climate Coordinator
  • School Resource Officer(s)
  • Professional Development Coaches
  • Library Commons Media Specialists; and
  • English Language Learning instructors

We are bringing professionals in house when possible and when we’ve added headcount, we’re often saving costs.

“Education is changing and good education is expensive.”

Today’s classroom is a fully digitized environment. Our district is fully invested in providing the required tools. Technology changes on a daily basis.

Putting in perspective with our DRG-A neighbors.

The New Canaan Advertiser–a sentence from an Op-ed written by their town council chairman.  The op-ed was focused on the New Canaan Board of Education’s proposed 3.48% budget increase…

“Wilton’s school board is asking for 2.24 percent.  Note, in three years Wilton has averaged less than a 1 percent increase per year.”

It’s always nice to know what your neighbors are saying about you.

With exception of Redding, Wilton has seen the most significant slowdown in spending. This is reflected in per-student spending. This is not a contest I’d like to win. There’s no prize for failing to invest in your schools.

Wilton is right in the middle of the pack in Special Education spending.

We see the tremendous return in investment of our education dollars.

We’ve been cutting and cutting and there’s nothing left to cut.

I thought about adding another slide called “the cutting room floor” where I would list all the spending initiatives that were eliminated during the budget development process.  Suffice it to say, there are many important items that either are not included in this budget, or are not fully funded.

This is a very lean budget.  There’s no mistaking that.

And as my data has shown, we’ve been cutting and cutting for the past several years.  There’s nothing left to cut. 

We are dangerously close to doing damage to core instruction in our schools.

And if I can go back to my opening example, when back in 1944 town residents spoke out against any efforts to “settle” on the type of education a Wilton student would receive, I have to wonder, what will history say about the choices we made in 2018?

Will Volume 2 of the History of Wilton say that residents chose to invest in our schools, even when the grand list was down, and the state’s finances were in disarray?  That residents put students first? Or will they say that 2018 was the turning point for the Wilton schools?

8:10 PM Audience Comments now invited

Max Gabrielsson:  High School teacher for 18 years at WHS. I strongly support this budget proposal. I’ve lived here for 20 years. We moved here for Wilton’s superior education. The education of our children is our highest collective priority. I’m now very concerned that several years of budget austerity will have a real, negative impact. Causing house values to flatline and decline. Will we continue to underfund our most precious asset? Much has been left out of the budget. The word ‘deferred’ appears as a feature–capital maintenance, textbooks, elementary library collections, musical instrument. Nothing is superfluous, significant cost-cutting is built in. It will eventually take a toll. People moving to Fairfield County check out the school systems. It takes many years to build a premier system the quality can be quickly eroded. We must maintain a competitive advantage. Home prices are one thing, the value of a child’s education is priceless. I don’t mind paying taxes, when I know my tax dollars are being wisely invested. Christine your words stuck in my mind:  Good education is expensive and there’s nothing left to cut.

Bob Hope:  I speak in favor of the mill rate increase. 2.24% is a moderate increase. When we moved here we understood services are funded primarily by property taxes. When costs go up, so do my taxes. Our youngest is graduating high school. They have all benefited. We intend to stay put, and I will continue to support budgets that support innovation in our schools.

Alex Ruskewich:  2004-2016  Westport has  good school system also. They were able to do it while controlling costs. Come in with an increase over that same period of time of 72%, we came in at 87%. They did this while their population increased, while their enrollment increased 10.3%. You can have good education, without spending everything.

When I wrote this, it was because they have a bigger grand list. That’s true, but they can afford that type of spending. People coming into town look at education, but they also look at what happened with their costs. Businesses look at their costs. If we want to encourage businesses, mill rate is important.

The state is in a disastrous condition. The enrollment projections I’ve used is from UCONN; also CT Economic Resource Center. Both agree that Wilton will lose 2,000 students by 2025.  150 out of 167 districts are expected to lose students. It’s not just Wilton. They’re also projecting Wilton’s population will drop, to 16,000, by 2020.  You lose students and taxpayers. You have the potential for houses for sales with no one coming in for the schools. You’ll also be competing with other schools having population problems.

[EDITOR’S NOTE:  We have asked Ruskewich to provide data and links to the stats he cites. Wilton’s current population is over 18,000.]

What you mentioned about elderly tax relief. What an elderly person gets in tax relief is the cost for one hockey player.

Zillow says the Wilton housing market is very cold.

Shri Seshan:  This is deja vu. We have high end properties, valued a lot less than 2012. The taxes are literally like a mortgage.

We deferred our tax revaluation by a year. All these properties selling at a lower price, they will be challenging these. My mom is a teacher, my wife is a teacher. I find the story of everything being cut, everything is being destroyed, is not realistic. Still you can have a great school system without spending a lot. In some ways, the advice I give newer people, there are too many choices in courses, get good grades, and do well.

My wife as a schoolteacher, gets grants, from 2010, she has not received a raise. That doesn’t reduce her commitment. It’s not just about dollars. From a contractual perspective, this 3.2% raise, is it because we didn’t tighten our belt during the credit crisis.

Suggestions:  If teachers don’t live in town, is it an opportunity to charge for their children to attend. If they have an administrative degree, but don’t work in an administrative function, do you have to pay them for it? and do you need so many coaches? Smith:  within a teacher’s contract, there can be a pay increase as they earn additional degrees. For coaches, we believe the ratio makes sense because it drives instruction. Also, teachers on new contracts are charged 30% of the per-pupil costs if their children come to the district.

Stephen Hudspeth:  30 year resident of Wilton, our last child graduated two decades ago. The schools are the future of our town. The one sure way to ensure decline in enrollment is to not invest in the schools. Say I am ASML, expanding with highly educated engineers, we want them to locate right here in Wilton. If we don’t invest in our schools, they won’t. Thank our Economic Development Committee, we have great economic growth, the schools are the future of our town. That is what we are fighting for our town right now. The 2.24% is the minimum we can do and keep things moving forward. The creativity is enormous. What our schools are doing to think through what the needs of our students will be in the future is spectacular.

Wilton Warrior columnist Maya Fazio:  Having a teacher expand your knowledge, cheers you on, teachers are there for there students, even if it does not correlate to their lesson plans.

Time magazine, 6 weeks ago, new Pew study:  11% increase in the average number of children born to Women after decades of declining fertility. I’m not questioning studies, but I’m going to assert that the American portion of the human race will not end. They’re going to procreate, they’re going to be here and they need educating.

Wilton has always had great schools. That’s what brought most people here, that’s what brings them in the future, that secures our economic base, it’s the centerpiece of our town’s investment. Preserve it, protect it, defend it.

[Large applause]

Jim Kineon: I wear two hats–concerned resident and as member of Wilton Education Foundation. The Foundation has been putting together events, grants, etc. that strongly support the schools and are looking forward to continuing. Our focus is to add the extras to enhance the experience for students and teachers. It’s the icing on the cake of the overall budget.

Looking forward and what we’re hoping to see is the continued support from the community, from the schools, from the teachers, make these programs successful.

Looking at our budget, we need to fund the budget so that we can ensure that all of these critical programs going forward, that we have the ability to properly prepare our students for life outside of the Wilton Schools. So we can ensure they can compete outside.

As a resident, I have two high school students. They started in Wilton Schools in kindergarten. We have made use of lots of different programs, resources, and teachers. What we’ve come away with, the teachers and administrators are really concerned about the success of Wilton students. We’ve started exploring colleges. How do we stack up, when we go–are we competitive? Yes. As I look at how the colleges teach and the tools they use, they do flipped classrooms, different tests, focus on project-based learning, collaboration, technologies that enhance this. Our kids really are properly prepared. They know how to do this in the Wilton schools. When they go to college, they’re going to be successful. I’m going to vote for the budget. It’s critical to support that and prepare our students, give them the ability to compete in a competitive, technology-focused world. They’re going to have to be life-long learners.

Michael Salit:  I’ve attended these meetings for last many years. We’re back to many years ago… it used to be standing room only. Our town demonstrates apathy. They don’t come out to vote. They don’t step up. I don’t understand where those priorities are.

Concerned with people who say I’m not comfortable with the budget. I come from generations of educators, administrators. I’ve seen things happening in Wilton, in the 22 years I”ve lived here, I see bloated administration. There are sacred cows within the institution. With due respect, I have looked to the BOF, to educate and bring fiscal responsibility. They’ve demonstrated in years past they don’t have their budget act together. I understand concern for preservation and our children.

A couple years ago, there was a request for $800,000. I said I was displeased that the BOF quickly allowed $400,000, to “let them know we’re watching.” that we’re doing more to keep your financial house in order.

I’m opposed to the increase, not opposed to education. I spend $7 out of every $10 in this town to support education. You can’t tell me I don’t support education. You need to get your house in order. I have been touched by what happened in 2008, and I don’t think there’s respect for what people are enduring.

I understand people are having difficulty making ends meet. I know you’re trying. I know you’ve been collaborating with the Board of Ed to get budgetary processes in place. But the process is slow and hasn’t borne fruit.

There was a study that may not be spot on, but there are places to cut, or at least places to look to reshape the education process. And I don’t believe for a moment that this BOE or its predecessor has done that. I don’t think the BOF has done enough. Can it be more wisely spent? What can we truly do with that money.

I’ve built companies, I’ve worked for and owned. I’ve brought people on and nurtured them, and I’ve had to let people go. From my seat, with all due respect, I know you have a thankless job, you need to do a better job. You need to think how many people do you really need in non-student facing administrators? How much fat is there? We have featherbedding. I hope you’d sharpen the pencil.

Kim Hall:  I couldn’t disagree more with the last speaker. Our administrator ratio is about 300:1 at most of our district schools. That isn’t bloat. Especially when we expect them to know our students – and they deliver. We also have been increasingly frugal with only a 1.3% average increase over Dr. Smith tenure.

I came up here to say that I was thinking today about how tough it can be to discern what the town wants when we hear the same voices each year at the microphone. And when turnout is low. These challenges are shared by many commuter communities in CT, along with the SALT impact and the state budget woes. And it reminded me of an article from 2015 about an analysis Mr. Rutishauer did of voting patterns.

For those who missed it, 2015 was one of 9 years out of the last 20 (2005-2009, 2012-2015) when the turnout failed to surpass the 15% threshold which meant that the budget automatically passed. It was also the first year since 1996 that the “Nos” outweighed “Yes” votes.

At the time, in the aftermath of the contentious Miller Driscoll vote, “No” votes grew nearly 83% to 679 votes, while “Yes” votes were down 10% at about 600. It was unclear if the driver of low turnout was complacency that the vote would always pass as it had for nearly 20 years – or were the “Nos” really gaining traction. One theory was that the tide was changing and that the town may not want to support the schools any more.

I think the last two years have largely answered that question. We do still support our schools.

We’ve seen No votes increase only 19% to 808 in 2017, while yes votes increased 97% to 1184. I think these changes speak to a few different realities:

  • We do support our school budgets
  • Dr. Smith and the BOE have been exceedingly frugal and financially focused in the past four years with only a 1.3% average annual increase over his tenure.

I often wonder if they are being too frugal as during that same time frame the contractuals that make up the bulk of the budget have continued to rise by about 3% so that represents a “cut” to strategic investment in the schools. Despite the reality that this budget left a lot of valuable strategic investment on the cutting room floor, I still support this budget.

Kim Purcell:  I’ve lived here since 2011, we moved here like so many for the schools, and stay here for the schools. I support the budget. We hear talk about whether school is like a business, and whether the school can cut budgets like a business. I have worked in environments that have focused on cutting and worked in environments focused on investments. Cutting is fine for the first few years, but every business reaches a point where it can’t grow. It’s not a good environment, it results in low morale and results. You work in an environment focused on growth and it’s good for our property values and the kids and overall.

Margot  Magarones: We fail our kids if we don’t invest. This is the first time I”ve seen the district reach out to the community to involve them in the budget process. The district cares, they’re open to input, and dedicated to making sure money is used efficiently and implement innovative programs. My voice matters, it wants to hear from community members. Be the change you want to see.

Carolyn Lyon:  The teaching environment the teachers are creating for our children is incredible. My son’s teacher taught his class about the five regions of the country by creating a video set to “Despacito.” It makes him love school. Teachers, parents and the PTA are funding crucial elements for the school. When my son hears Despacito, he sings the lyrics his teacher taught him.

Kara Berghaus:  I’ve been busy the last few weeks volunteering in the schools. It’s been an amazing few weeks. I’m concerned, I think it’s very lean. Our administration does an amazing job on a thin string. I think of the Little Enging that Could. I think of our district that way. It’s the community that needs to get on board. A lot of people support, but this is a horrible turnout. People only hear from those who complain. the community needs to educate themselves and sees the faces of the children when they’re engaged in learning. The doors are open. I welcome everyone, go in and see what happens.

Maggie Feltz:  I have a special vantage point to what’s happening in the community (my sister is the principal of Middlebrook). I have a conflict of interest by also a  To observe the special things that teachers are doing in this district. I willingly support all the kids, whether they are gifted, typical or special, like my son. I’m a proud Wilton resident, the teachers and every administrator says that their children are their life’s work. It’s my duty and my pleasure to support them.

Meeting adjourned 9:10 p.m.