MONDAY, MARCH 28—Beginning at 7:30 p.m., GOOD Morning Wilton will be live blogging the Board of Finance‘s budget hearing for public information and comment on the proposed Board of Education budget. The meeting is being recorded for broadcast later on Cablevision Ch. 79 and streaming on the Wilton Public School website.
Check back here for updates as soon as the meeting begins at 7:30 p.m..
Editor’s Note (11 p.m.): I tried to get as much information and detail as I could but relied extensively on paraphrasing. There were inevitably things I missed. The complete meeting will likely be aired again on Ch. 78 and/or Ch. 79.
7:17 PM: People trickling into the auditorium. Town and School officials mingling, laughing, talking. The agenda on the screen is for the Mar. 29 public hearing on the Board of Selectmen, not the Board of Education meeting for tonight.
7:19 PM: The screen mishap has been corrected.
7:22 PM: The numbers in the audience have already far surpassed last year’s attendance of around 20. Something tells me we’ll also be here tonight longer than last year’s 40-minute meeting.
7:30 PM I’ve been told the meeting will be live streamed.
7:33 PM Bd. of Finance chair Jeff Rutishauser has called the meeting to order.
7:34 PM Says all the members of the Bd. of Finance are hardworking volunteers and “deserve your respect.”
7:34 PM Rutishauser encourages comments during public comment section: this is meant to be active participation.
7:35 PM grand list up only .19%, only had an increase in $200,000 increase in tax revenue, after $900,000 increase last year. Says town should be more accommodating to new development that it “eases the tax burden for all of us.” Town needs to focus on this in the future.
BoS has presented a budget that reflects a decrease from last year. It’s an “extraordinary performance by the selectmen”
The BoE presented one of the lowest increases in its history, 1.27%, which is significantly lower than recent years. “We commend the BoE and the superintendent.”
Demonstrates a turning of the corner as decrease in enrollment starts to decline, as a smaller generation follows aging baby boomers.
Debt service is up 8% ($854,750) due to Miller-Driscoll and Comstock construction projects.
The pension is funded at 96.5-percent of liabilities, leaving only $3.6 million shortfall
Other non-tax revenues are $5.8 million, a slight decrease from last year.
Tax relief for elderly/disabled residents remains at $1.1 million
Moody’s reaffirmed Wilton’s AAA bond rating in March of 2015.
There is budget shortfall of $2.6 million (2.27% of the budget), a much larger deficit than recent years, because of lower surplus reserves, an increase in debt service and smaller grand list growth.
“The shortfall was due to conditions elsewhere, not in operating causes of the Board of Education or Bd. of Selectmen.”
7:41 PM: Tonight’s meeting is required by the Charter. The BoF “Must consider views of voters expressed at these meetings and direct communication via email (email@example.com), the financial resources of the town, whether they BoE and BoS can find savings, and the appropriateness financial situation of the town.” –Rutishauser
“Wilton needs more sensible, commercial development.” –Rutishauser. Commercial properties make up only 14% of the grand list.
It would benefit the town for the revaluation next year if the empty retail spaces were better filled, to increase commercial property values and increase the grand list.
The BoF is concerned about Hartford being able to supply revenue sharing grants.
7:45 PM: Revenue is projected to be nearly $1 million less than last year
Expenses projected to be $1.8 million more.
“If we didn’t change the mil rate we’d be $2.6 million short.”
Only two ways to close the gap: tax increase or budget cuts.
This large deficit is the result of a perfect storm, despite excellent operating budget performance by the two boards.
There will probably be some disappointment in all corners as we seek to close this gap.
7:50 PM Bruce Likly will now present the education budget.
The auditorium is now standing room only.
7:51 PM Bruce Likly: Following Rutishauser, Likly says, “That was depressing.” earning laughs. “As I listened I didn’t know whether to cry, cry harder or laugh.”
7:52 PM “If we increase the mil rate as projected, for someone who owns a $1.3 million home, that’s a $249-250 tax increase for the year, less than $1/day. I’m going to show you tonight why that’s a good investment.”
7:54 PM The budget didn’t pass last year, at 1.9% increase. It only passed because of the 15% rule. Tonight is all about sending a clear message to BoF. Decisions on budget votes are for the next generation how to pay it forward. The citizens should be the ones to decide what is tenable and sustainable. That’s why they need to hear from you. The BoF should act on the voices of you.
The vision of Wilton Public Schools guides everything we do.
email us, even during the presentation, let us know. firstname.lastname@example.org
I stole this from a movie: “We are Wilton.” We are successful, and we should be proud of that fact. Likly shows a graphic about amazing SAT scores, National Merit finalists and scholars, ranked #2 in CT magazine, 10 National AP scholars, multiple state champions in athletics, award winning music program, … We’re a heck of a district because of the support you provide us.
The current year ’15-’16 budget is $79,956,024. The projected actual expenditures for 2016-2017 are $80,491,533, with a variance (over budget) of $535,509. “It’s mainly due to outplacement costs of children with severe special needs. “These are kids with severe educational and medical needs.” The state reimburses some, helping the town general fund by $179,217.
8:02 PM Achievements this past year
- piloted a 1:1 chromebook program at WHS
- conducted a comprehensive review of Special Education Services
- Provided computers to all classroom teachers
- Hired a full time safe school climate coordinator
- Created K-8 Curriculum Coordinator positions
- Developed instructional coaching positions K-12
- Improved process and guidelines for Scientific Research-based Interventions (SRBI)
- Upgrade of technology infrastructure
For 2016-17, instructional priorities:
- continue creating safe, positive, bully-free school climates
- invest in teacher instruction and professional learning
- implementing two new courses at the high school, in technology and engineering
- upgrading infrastructure for better WiFi
- Mather interventionist at MD, CM, WHS
- Continue Learning Commons Initiative
- Continue expanding enrichment
8:08 PM Large budget drivers:
- Contracted Salary Increases: $501,644
- Purchased Profesional services: $393,957 (includes legal services)
- Other Purchased Services increases: $61,669 (this is mostly the transportation/bus company)
- Employee Benefits: Health costs went down with reduced staff ($122,085)
- Anticipated Excess Cost Grant: =/- $980,000 (over last 5 years Wilton has received 70-75% of its request
Staffing changes (will post this slide as soon as I can)
75% of the budget is tied up in salaries and benefits.
The proposed budget over approved budget of last year is 1.27. The Proposed budget over the Actual budget of 2016 is only .59%, a difference of $500,000. Yet we’re still finding ways to invest in so many amazing places.
We drop down to 593 employees this year.
We’re focused on what we delivered in the past, but also what we can do in the future.
“Do you like your schools? Do you like your town? It’s a grand list issue, people move to Wilton for the schools. We’ve got to change the conversation. We’ve got to be nicer to each other. [to much applause] We’ve got to make people realize Wilton’s a great place and if they move here, they’ll have great neighbors.”
People are lined up 7 deep at one microphone, and 4 deep at the other.
Mary Jane Reis: I have seen calls for cuts from a minority of voices, it helps those who are shortsighted. If we wish to remain competitive and if we want our children to remain competitive we must invest in our schools. Let the majority of our citizens’ voices be heard.
Heather Wilcauskas: I’m a parent of a WHS grad, and I have no children in the Wilton schools. I am a strong supporter of this budget The schools are our most powerful amenity. [applause] In future years I would like to see not quite such an austere budget, bring them back to the late 1990s. [applause]
Ross Tartell: Bruce I’m glad you asked why people come to Wilton. We don’t have a great center of town. They came because we have great schools. I no longer have children in the schools. I stayed because of how this town works and the culture. The investment in this town is the investment in the children of this town. It starts with the investment in the children. That’s a lot of what Wilton is about. It sets the tenor of who we are. Keep investing, keep doing what we’re doing. We’re in a transformational period, and you can’t underfund.
Callie Burton: My family moved here for the schools, we wouldn’t be here otherwise. When my daughter first started she was unable to speak. 3 years later she’s speaking, reading, writing. I want to thank the BoE for doing such a good job. I support the budget, and I would hope everyone here does. [Applause]
Kathy Danton (?): We also moved for the schools. I also want to push for services for academically gifted kids. Like China and India, your numbers are at 58% going to top schools you should be at 95%.
Alex Ruskevich: Wilton has not been stingy with the school system. Wilton is the 4th highest in the state in per capita spending. Wilton is 3rd highest in increase in spending. You have an increase from 2012 to the current budget, you’re reducing the population by 199 students, over the same time you’re increasing the budget by $4.5 million. There are projections throughout the state of CT, drastic drops in population. Not just Wilton, all the towns. All I hear today is good, the school system is good and I believe in what they’re doing, but we still have to look at what’s fiscally responsible for Wilton, or will we destroy Wilton? Look at one item: The BoE is currently spending $3,415 per hockey student. they’re spending $864 on a math student. I believe in sports, but I believe that the people getting the benefit are the ones who should be contributing. Darien has an extra amount for those people…
–shout from the crowd– “So does Wilton!”
Alex: I don’t believe we do.
I also took a look at sales of houses. People moving in recently. As of today, according to zillow, there are 641 more houses on the market today than December. [some chatter and laughter] There are 24 in pre-foreclosure according to Zillow. We can argue with those numbers, people looking to come to Wilton will be looking at those numbers.
I did research on people who sold their houses. I found four that were sold last year. They lost from $145,000 to $395,000 on what they sold it for to what they bought it for. Again Zillow data.
I believe what the schools are doing could be done for less costs. We can do these things in a better way. What I see they’re forecasting for pre-K is 78. It has never been 78.
We give a senior for senior relief $1,000. You give a hockey player $3,000. [applause]
Jeff Johnson: We’re supporting the budget, my wife gave me a lengthly email to read [laughter and applause]. What we’re worried about are step wages. Is it attractive for younger teachers to come to Wilton. we want to cultivate the just out of college, making sure our teachers grow with the town and with the schools. What are our wages for entry level teachers? We’d like the board to look at that.
Cameron Berg: I’m a student at the HS. This idea, the insinuation that it’s not an investment but an expense, I think that’s wrong. The education budget and how it affects students. It’s an investment in us and what we’re learning. [applause] No matter how you vote on the budget, students are going to know and will feel the consequences of how you vote. The model congress trip–I’m the VP of Model Congress, and we’ve been doing well. To humanize this, we can throw around esoteric financial terms, what it means for students, we’re talking about shifting some of our expense to the education budget. We have students paying $1000 for travel expenses. The answer can’t be we can’t be that the budget can’t be allowed to flourish. The schools need more funding. We need to humanize the debate. Students do feel these votes. When you have to pay extra to join a club, it becomes a burden on the student [applause]
Dave Cote: What a great turnout. I hope all town meetings will be like this. The signs on Rt. 7 and wilton center are awesome [applause]. I asked last year for the Board to finish the floors on the courts. Thank you for that. Since I’m 1-for-1 I’ve got another request. I see you’re cutting two paraprofessionals. Can you cut just one and save my wife’s job? [laughter from audience]
I’d like to accept the challenge, and get more involved. I’d like more of a private-public partnership for athletic facilities. I’d challenge everyone in the room. Help relieve some burden on the board and improve Wilton’s athletics. [applause] I’m not opposed to seeing a Pepsi sign in the field house or a Breitling ad, I’m not opposed to helping pay for the turf at Fujitani.
John Schiaroli: People move here for the schools. We’re in favor of the budget. But this seems tactical year-to-year. What is the strategy by the BoF and the BoS to get us back to number 1. When someone is spending $2 million, and they’re looking at other homes, what is the tactical discussion. WE have to plan 4-5 years ahead. How are we strategically growing the school system and community back to where it was? What are we doing?
Marianne Rappaport: We left Westchester to come to Wilton because it was more favorable, the taxes were too high there. We moved to Darien, and that’s where my daughter went through. Then we moved to Wilton. We didn’t move for the school system. But buying a house is a family’s largest investment. I’ve lived here almost 23 years. I am the eldest citizen on our road. This is a town attached to a school system. My taxes on my house, the house we sold in Darien sold last fall for close to $2 million. My house is worth $800,000. The taxes are the same, $16,000. If we were in the market to buy today, the taxes only go up. We are pricing ourselves out of the housing market. We are turning into Westchester. I love living in Wilton. There are more stores for rent, buildings for lease, houses for sale. However we have lovely brick sidewalks to walk to all the stores.
In terms of fewer children in the school systems. You cannot forecast the population. The older people in CT who have a certain amount of money are leaving. You will see your tax base and your grand list go down. You’re going to have a problem in the town.
It seems the [numbers on the AP scores] is cherry-picking. How could 1,100 students be on the honor roll? My heart goes out to the 100 who didn’t make it? Maybe they’re all geniuses.
You can do what you want with your budget. If I ran my household the way this is being run, I’d be running scared. You don’t have enough on your grand list. When there’s no business moving into town, you’re in trouble.
People come here for the schools, then they move.
Tom Curtin: I support the budget as it relates to Education. But I believe there’s a call in the budget for a 2.37% increase for all administrators. Recently I saw Wilton got a B grade, not an A. I think there’s a reality check. They had 5 realtors at the BoF, who said taxes are too high, houses are not selling. There’s a 29% decrease in real estate sales. I support the budget for education, not an administrative increase.
Steve Bell: I’m a math teacher at WHS, I’m a Wilton homeowner and taxpayer, I’m a resident and parent of kids in the schools. First point, thanks to the BoE and superintendent for the stewardship and the BoF for their oversight. If you watch the media, you would know that the school is about K-9 searches. Students challenge themselves far beyond what I did and in the recent past. Teachers work many more hours than the contract calls for. During my 17 years living in Wilton, I have heard people say the schools are the primary reason they move here. The schools are the primary selling point. People who value that are the ones we want as neighbors. The BoE has presented you a reasonable, sensible budget. To press them beyond what you have would be a mistake. A reputation is easily lost. [Applause]
Caroline Lyon: We have 4 children and chose Wilton for its schools. We wanted the best. Teachers are excited about the learning commons. I saw the excitement on their faces about what the students are doing. Wilton’s learning commons model is getting attention from other districts. Cuts could hurt that progress. Do not cut the school budget.
Steve Hudspeth: 29 year resident, our last child graduated 15 years ago, and I strongly support this budget. I see the quality of what our schools do, across the board. Look at Middlebrook’s great debate program, look at the art and music program. These are incredibly innovative schools doing the best for our children at the most cost-effective rates. Some people talk about cutting back in special Ed. Not only is it caring, it is probably the most cost-INeffective decision–you’ll have more litigation, and the schools won’t have the staff so students will be outplaced which will cost more. For moral reasons and cost reasons. Please look to the school budget, realize the significance of what our schools do and give them the support they’re doing for all of us right now.
Franklin Dunn: There’s no doubt that Wilton has a reputation of fine schools. Unfortunately, of all the graduates how many are settling here. [Several people raised hands, shouting, ‘Turn around!‘] You put in time and effort trying to keep our town afloat and it’s appreciated by everyone. When we moved here 32 years ago, we didn’t need the schools. Our children were already out of school. We love it here.
Ben Frutos: I moved to Wilton in spring 2014. We were looking at high schools, it was a key decision for what we could afford and for education. We found out our 2 year old was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. She started at the MD pre-K program. It’s been phenomenal to see the change in her, the work they do there is amazing. I hope she’ll be Cameron. Instead I found myself in a town and benefitting from an amazing special education program. I work in marketing, you can make any number work for you. There are not a lot of houses on the market in December, and when the market picked up they had a lot of offers. When your mill rate is in the 40s and your school system is one of the worst, you can spin that and say, “What am I paying for?” People will come to this town for the excellent school system. For everything we get out of it, there’s a lot of great things in this town. It’s easy to get down on the town and on your neighbors. We can’t take away from the education. It’s not something we can do because that’s what is bringing people in.
Virginia Benin: I’ve been living here for 40 years my children went through the schools and got great educations. Lots of good things happened in the school and around the town as a whole, not just the schools. If you ask me, do I want to pay more taxes? Look at me, why would I want to at my age? That’s not the question. The question is, do I want quality, and do I want a town and a system that I can be proud of. I would ask you to make sure that that is what continues. I believe this BoE has done a phenomenal job. I know how hard it is to balance the needs of the departments and to provide coverage across. Any money that has to come out of the math program is wasting energy, productivity. I had no intention of speaking tonight, but I urge you to please not take away from the quality my children had, the children after them have had. I am willing to pay for it. [Applause]
Donnie Hall: We looked all over when we moved and Wilton had the best. Wilton has very few houses compared to other towns. New Canaan has 1,000 more homes! Of course they can raise more taxes. We spend less per pupil than New Canaan. We are $1,000 less per student this year than the average of the 9 budgets [in our DRG]. Thanks to the staff, the teachers, admins who educate our kids on less! The other reason we moved here was the open space. It’s not one brick continuous for miles. There’s green space. You see kids walking around. We moved here knowing we didn’t have a golf course, a dog park, a pool. WE all chose to move here investing in this town. Next year, don’t cut so much. You want the schools better, reduce the class sizes. Don’t cut so much. Down the road the school population is going back up. And then we’ll want the 5% increase. I support the budget, it’s a great town, very charitable. We’re here for the kids and families. [Applause]
[unclear]: I lived here 24 years. To put things in perspective: people moved for the school system, but more than that: what’s the best school system, affordability and convenience to get to work. We’ve lost some of that affordability. 24 years ago the taxes was $5,000. last year that was $18,000. Taxes compared to home value has increased dramatically.
Jessica White & Sarah McCall: On behalf of the Wilton Newcomers Club [Jessica is president, Sarah is vice president]. We can vouch of our almost 200 members, most of them, like us, came here for the schools number one and the community number two. They both support the school budget and they want more investment in technology.
Felicia Borglum Lamond: I’m a graduate of WHS, went on to be a statistician. I benefitted from this fabulous program. Everything was available. We lived on a thin budget, however we benefitted from the entire town. I emphasize the town. I like the fact that we’re a town. I totally believe in the schools. I have come back from Australia, physically separated from my husband so that my children, 3rd generation in the schools, including my father, for the specific reason of the school. Please, keep the school budget. Please pay for it. This is a town to be very proud of, everyone here, small to tall deserve the investment we make in our schools.
Stacy Skolnick: I moved here 3 years ago for the schools. I don’t mind spending extra money for my children’s education, that’s why I’m here. I’m in favor of this budget. Wilton is our schools.
Deborah McFadden: Thanks to the BoE, the school administrators and teachers, and all the citizens who came out. Board of Finance: I recognize the challenges you have–the increase in debt service, the state situation that will go from bad to worse, the grand list is flat. But, the seniors on fixed income in this town: we have a deferral and abatement program. We need to promote it more, because we need the people who have been here to stay. If you can be advocates, and everyone in this town, we need to grow the grand list. We need more housing for seniors. That would be a great place to grow the grand list.
To the BoE, love the safe school coordinator, glad you found someone to fill that. I am totally against pay-to-play. This is a public school, not private and that’s slippery slope. (smattering of applause). The special education program, I really love the program. The district itself has a culture of acceptance that is unique. For parents with special need children it’s nice to have that accepting climate. We need to change the conversation in our town. We need to be advocates for Wilton. If someone is looking to come to the community, they check online. If they see people trashing and badmouthing our town, it’s going to impact how people see us and if they come. We are its best advocates and we need to cut the negativity.
I support the BoE budget. This is a very lean budget, I’m impressed you could cut it so much. Our schools are our best asset. We all need to be advocates of not only our community, but this specific vote. We need people out May 3 and May 7. Last year, the budget would have been defeated. Make sure everybody comes out to vote.
Paul Rice: I work at Fordham University on budgets. I’m here to express my strong support for this budget. I see a budget sensitive to changes in demographics and changes in headcount. The increase is extremely modest, yet it still contains improvement and initiatives. It’s penny-wise pound foolish to shortchange the town.
Simon Reiff: It’s been enlightening to see. Dr. Smith, you did a fantastic job laying out I believe this was a good faith effort to listen to people who believe in a declining enrollment as well as the DMC report on improving Special Education services. I’m passionate about the schools. The teachers are fantastic, I volunteer. We have great educators here. We have a great school system.
Having said that, I have concerns on this budget and I’m not comfortable voting for it. We have a moral and legal obligation to provide education to every single special education student. But I have problems–$4.5 million for outplacements. $128,000 per pupil. Online, I retrieved the top 150 special schools in the country. There’s not a single one that goes up to $128,000. Sure it includes transportation. I don’t have comfort in that number to feel that’s right. I know there are laws that protect privacy so we may not have insight into why. It’s about 12 times more than Westport. and I think the BoE needs to justify that number. Everyone wants great services for special needs and typical students.
People were voted into office on the basis that they weren’t going to raise taxes, and guess what–we’re raising taxes with this budget.
I see headcount increasing and with declining enrollment, I don’t see adding an additional math interventionist at MD.
Another thing that gives me pause is the basis for staffing. Psychologist, therapists, all are pegged to enrollment. The figures for pre-K are exactly the same as last year. Correct me if I’m wrong, there’s a projection, not real numbers, aiming to accomplish 1-to-1 peer to special education relationship. I don’t think we achieve that in the 2016-2017 year then we shouldn’t pay for it in the 2016-2017 year.
The money I see for improving the technology infrastructure–that sounds like a project that requires a bond and an investment. That should be put to the voters. I don’t think that’s how the voters want their money to be spent.
Bill McMorris: I read the chair of the BoE comments, I found them disturbing, cut this, cut entire programs. There’s a change in the tenor. If it becomes necessary to cut the budget there should be other ways it should be done. And there should be a more civil tone.
Look at the revenue in a different way. WE have an asset in the Clune Center for the Arts. that is underutilized. the Ridgefield Playhouse has something every day of the year. If it can be used to generate revenue, perhaps we wouldn’t have this discussion next year.
[He spoke pretty quickly, it was hard to catch.]
Ask anyone in New Canaan, in Darien, they moved there for the schools. When we moved here taxes were negligible, $3300. This year it’s $17,000. I feel for the seniors who are here.
John Mackin: To everyone in the town, please stop suing the town frivolously. [APPLAUSE] It creates a bad perception. Trust the people running the schools, volunteering their time in the place where you moved for that purpose. We have essentially $350,000 because of lawsuits. Also to the BoE, I fully support the special education program, I think it’s a huge cost savings and much better than placing that student outside.
Erika Kurtz: I was a victim of the budget cuts last year, I lost my job as a paraprofessional at the high school. I understand the difficult budget process. We have lived here for 9 years, we moved here for the schools. I have watched the staff at every single one of these schools work incredibly hard. They’re gifted people who try their best every day. I hope you get the voter turnout. Saturdays are crazy for most parents. We’ve tried to come out every year, just keep getting the word out.
Kim Hall: I support the budget. One of the biggest changes is that Dr. Smith has made a real effort to communicate his vision and goals. Since his arrival, Dr. Smith and his team have modeled how to maintain and build excellence –openness to feedback, inclusive and transparent communication and a drive for improvement.
The team still has room for improvement though – particularly in communicating these efficiencies. As I dug into this budget, I was surprised at how lean it really is, and began to become a little concerned about what may be falling through the cracks. I wonder if you’re cutting too much.
For two examples, I’d like to focus on two of the bigger line items that have generated negative attention: Special Education and Salaries.
Special Education: I don’t have a child in the Special Ed program currently, but did benefit from a successful early intervention. I want to commend the team for the managerial courage in commissioning such a study and making it public. The report on Special Ed is awesome. It takes courage to ask the questions and seek these answers. However, I think the actions coming out of it could have been better explained to bring folks on the journey and to understand the outcomes.
First, As the introduction of that report notes – these are not low-hanging fruit opportunities. They can’t all be done at once and any of them requires 1-3 years to bring to fruition. Not to mention that the proposed budget already includes numerous ways in which the school is already working aggressively to get after those improvements and efficiencies, such as moving to small group models where possible, improved consistency with the SRBI handbook, and increasing instruction by appropriate professionals while reducing paraprofessional head count. In many cases this work began even before the report was concluded, so the current year budget includes some of these benefits too.
This budget continues progress instead of making a quick change or doing everything at once without putting our most vulnerable kids at risk.
Salaries: Salaries also always come up as an item to look at, because it is such a big nut. So I dug into them. And you may be surprised to learn that in addition to the BOE budget being more efficient overall than many in our DRG on a per pupil basis, we are also more efficient than our DRG on almost every Salary metric.
Here are some highlights, each of which includes all of our DRG except Region 9 (Redding and Easton) because of the challenge of obtaining apples to apples data from them. The Proposed budgeted Salaries represent:
- Salaries represent the lowest percentage of overall education budget vs. our DRG (60.4-percent vs. DRG Average of 63.9-percent)
- Ours is the lowest salary percent change and dollar change vs our DRG (1.02-percent/$502,000 vs DRG Average of 3.03-percent/$1,660,000)
- This budget includes more headcount reductions than any other DRG budget (-6.65)
- And that is in addition to the 4+ headcount reductions last year
- We have the 2nd lowest salary cost / pupil ($12,062 vs. DRG average of $12,633)
Ed Papp: Congratulations to both boards in trying to put together a budget, working against opposing views. One wants to spend, the other wants to bring it further into control. My taxes have doubled since 2000. Any parents now whose 1st grader is just starting will have the taxes double by graduation.
Special education, there’s something wrong there with outplacements, there’s a big difference with Westport. St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark has done a great job educating their students. One of the overriding mottos when I graduated is that, “Whatever hurts my brother, hurts me.” As Simon mentioned, it would be shameful if we did not educate our students. But in the same vein it is worrisome that we treat our seniors in the same way. Many of the seniors are on a fixed income. None have received a social security increase in the last 3-4 years. Teachers get a raise, students get more attention. It’s the height of arrogance that we’re treating seniors the way they are. I see people buying cat food, and I know they don’t have a cat. There are a lot of people hurting. 24 homes in foreclosure. They can’t sell, if they do sell they have no place to go. There are a lot of people hurting. Whatever we can do to further encourage more prudent spending should be done. We have to take care of all citizens, of all ages, and recognize that’s an important responsibility. [Applause]
Scott Matik: The commentary from your citizen is that the school is the largest sellable asset the town has. Socioeconomic factors for taking care of everyone, generations before mine, those can be accommodated in other areas of the budget than the school system. When you’re looking at someone like Bruce, I don’t see someone asking for a blank check. He’s responsible and fairly conservative.
Dr. Smith–I’d like to understand if this budget was different, what would your wish list be? That would give an indication of the austerity he’d have to go through.
If this meeting is an indication for the enthusiasm for protecting and caring for the education, how does the BoF now view it: Would you vote for it or would you vote against it?
Jeff Rutishauser–we’re not here to answer the question tonight.
Paul Hannah: Compliments on getting the biggest crowd. I’m on a fixed income, I have seen my taxes go up. And I plan to stay in Wilton. I do encourage the BoF to go along with the school budget. When I was chair of the BoF we would have been delighted to get an amount this low. And when they cut $100,000, they didn’t do any maintenance! That just leaves bonding to the future. I support the budget.
Barbara Bear: I support the budget, but as a mother of a special needs child, we need to be careful with our services. Responding to a comment about early intervention happening too early, I may have misunderstood. But one of my children started receiving services at 2.5 years old. The state of CT has a service Birth to Three, and then when my son turned 3 years old, as mandated by the state, those services are turned over to the local BoE. Wilton picked up on those services, and he participated in the Wilton Pre-K program. It was a frightening time. When Cameron turned 5 years old, his services were pulled. We couldn’t afford an advocate, we didn’t want to sue, we didn’t want to fight. We just wanted to get through Miller-Driscoll. By third grade, they reevaluated him. He was pretty much the same as when he turned 5-yr.old. We’ve gotten great support and now he’s ready for 6th grade, but still needs support. I can’t say enough for early intervention and continued care. When his services were removed, he was one of those kids who could have fallen through the holes. Being vigilant about special services is really important.
On sending kids out of the school system, the cost that Westport was paying, you cannot compare what we’re spending for outplacement, if you don’t know what they’re paying for litigation. There are towns more willing to litigate than educate. Until you can get those figures, you cannot compare our town to another.
Sarah Curtis: Thank you to the BoF, it’s the first time I’ve done that. I’m really struck by what an incredible group and amazing job you’ve done. You’ve had a tough year. The great questions asked, some tough questions. Such collaboration with the different boards on what can we do, to make it more efficient and make it more effective. For those of us not for the budget or are undecided, what the BoF has done this year is not about being against the BoE budget or against the budget as a whole. I don’t think there’s a person against supporting the wonderful things that happen in our school system. I’ve benefitted but I’ve also been a taxpayer who has seen my taxes go up 400%. A lot of the younger people in the audience, when your taxes go up, it’s not going to be fine.
I felt the BoE did a disservice to the people of this town with the comments: the sky is falling, we’re going to cut teachers, we’re going to cut the freshman sports program. Putting fear into people is never a good thing. It’s a lack of taking ownership for the long range planning that hasn’t gone on. there were a lot of fuzzy answers to good questions asked. ‘A lack of metrics, …”
There are a lot of people I know, teachers and administrators in the system. I want to support this budget. What I don’t want to support is the waste in the school system. I want better programs, art, music, athletic programs. But people who can’t get up and speak who have jobs in this town and the school system, the conversation has to do with the waste. Supplies are heaved into dumpsters. Teachers talk about it. It’s ridiculous the money you waste, that are spent on things that are insane. People want to support the education budget. What we don’t want to support is watching the budget meeting, the cavalier attitude to the question that were asked, the joking. It’s not a joke when you’re a senior who has lived here for 60 years and has no place to go, when your taxes go up 400%. We need to think about some of the other people in the town. They’re not going to be accommodated in some other budget. When the BoE budget is the biggest portion of this town, 1% or 2% is a lot. Look at those inefficiencies that the people who work in your school system say are ridiculous. Those dollars could be better used. [Applause]
Laurie Collins: I am in support for the budget. My youngest child has a ton of special needs. With my older sons, the schools were great, terrific. My younger guy, he got great birth-to-three services. At MD, it was determined he should be outplaced. I want to put a face to one of those outplaced kids. He still can’t talk to me. He’d doing things I never thought he’d do. He just couldn’t function here, but he’s in the best place he should be.
10:15 PM The meeting ended.