I’d like to thank the public for their feedback at the meetings last week and the e-mails they have sent to the boards.

I heard a lot of people say leave the budget as is, but after speaking with many fellow citizens, they, like me, just want good schools but have been led to believe that a cut in the budget will result in degradation to the education of our children and to the value our schools bring to the community.

I do not believe this is the case.  I have spent hours reading and re-reading the budget – something that I’ll bet that the vast majority of those who have voiced their opinion have not done.  Reliance solely on Op Ed’s can distort the facts and mask the opportunities.  I am convinced that focused leadership can determine appropriate reductions to wring out inefficiencies will lead to maintaining or improving the delivery of the education experience we all cherish.

At hand is this year’s budget.  However, I want to be perfectly clear, that the better way to resolve the challenges we collectively face is to not continue to take them in isolated one year budget bites, but rather to commit to build effective three year planning tools throughout the year, especially during the summer months when there are less pressing matters to consume our collective volunteering resources.

I’d like to see this adopted by all three boards.

We all know that enrollment is declining.  It is a demographic trend that exists with great certainty.  Failing to recognize and address this trend is irresponsible both to the taxpayers and the students.   Class sizes are either at or through the self-induced guidelines.  Average class sizes often mask the largest class sizes which should be published as well.  The dispersion of class sizes is perhaps as important as the average.  Why do I mention this?  Because cutting classroom teachers is perhaps the most damaging personnel decision the Board of Ed could implement, yet it is what has been threatened as the solution for saving the marginal dollar.

Let’s find another alternative but start with the realization that there is no “silver bullet” and although the Board of Finance does not have authority to cut specific expenses in the Board of Ed’s budget, we can apply good business practices and common sense to make recommendations for improvements.  Savings will be earned through implementing a series of thoughtful smaller reductions, $50k here – $75k there.  As you may recall, I found $100k in savings in reduced natural gas consumption earlier in the budget season which reduced the budget by 12 basis points.  All parties must be diligent in seeking these savings.  Collectively they can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There is more staff as measured by FTEs (310) than classroom teachers (276).  The opportunity for efficiency gains are in the administrative side, not the classroom instructor side.

Looking at the job postings for the Wilton Public Schools I see 45 positions posted.  24 are for the Extended School Year.  Only four are for classroom teachers.

There is a position posted for an Anticipated Assistant Principal at the High School.  Has this been duly vetted to determine that this is an absolutely necessary position given that we have two other Assistant or Associate Principals?

There are two positions opened for Tutors at the High School.  If teachers are indeed effective, why do we need public tutors?  I have had to pay for a tutor for my own where teachers have been less than effective.  Having to pay for tutors is in essence a tax imposed by the schooIs.  I suggest that the administration focus on providing classroom teachers who meet appropriate instruction standards where tutors are not required instead of hiring more tutors.

Finally, there is a position posted for a Music Therapist.  Do we really need a Music Therapist on the payroll here in Wilton?

I’m sure there are Board of Ed members who might consider this meddling, but any good business person would find the same issues and ask the same questions – this is not rocket science.  The Board of Finance is doing it on behalf of the town.

Lynne has implemented the best practice of reevaluating each position as it is vacated in the rest of the town and it is the core of running a great business.  At $80+ million dollars, the Wilton Public Schools are in fact a great big business.  Has the Board of Ed and Superintendent adopted this world class practice?

These are just suggestions as the job postings appear to potentially increase non-teaching staff far more than critical classroom teachers.  I’d like to ask the Board of Ed to reconsider the real need not only for today, but for the reduced enrollment we will all experience.  There is room to do more with less without impacting the delivery of a world class education.  We can’t wait longer for implementation and need buy in from the Board, Superintendent, Administration and teachers.

Special Needs – We heard from many in town not to touch special needs.  I am a huge supporter of providing services to those who really need them. We can do a better job of delivering these services according to the DMC study published more than eight months ago.

We are well below national standards on a number of measures of delivery.  By-the-way, there are significant cost savings of nearly $2 million associated with implementing the Study’s recommendations.  Saving dollars was not the purpose of the Study, simply the by-product.  When will implementation occur, on what timeline and with what measurement for accountability?  It does not show up with any magnitude in this budget which goes out two years beyond the delivery of the study.  I count four fewer paraprofessionals (aids) as the only change in staff.

Outplacement – We have to get better and more efficient at delivering the very special needs where outplacement is called for. How is it that Westport, with 30% more students, places just 30 students for a total of $2.3 mm or $76.5k per student vs. Wilton placing 35 at a cost of $4.5 mm or $128k per student?  Are they sending their outplaced students to different yet more cost effective approved facilities?  The differential is just too big on too large of a sample to be ignored.

Participation Fees – a perennial hot topic.

All athletes pay the same participation fee of $125.  I know that there are additional costs for uniforms and equipment – I’ve paid them.  That participation fee is still a relative bargain when compared to the costs on non-school sports.

But some sports like hockey stand in a premier status both here in Wilton and in other communities.  Darien participants pay $925 for hockey, still a relative bargain given the cost of youth hockey.  Implementing a differential for premier sports would offer additional savings while balancing the benefit more fairly.  An extra $800 for each hockey player would save about $42k in the budget and simply bring us more in-line with neighboring communities practices.  That would still leave the school’s cost per participant cost between $1,900 and $2,500 – still a considerable expense per athlete.  Again, not a single solution but rather part of a more holistic and fair approach and more in-line with neighboring communities.

I urge the Board of Ed and Superintendent to reconsider adding to the good work they have already done and find additional savings to be a good partner in controlling the rate of growth of our mil rate while still providing a great education experience.  You’re smart dedicated people and I have confidence that you can prove that yet again to the town.