At last night’s (Thursday, April 20) Board of Education (BOE) meeting, Superintendent Kevin Smith was clear in his message to Wilton residents and voters who’ll be considering next year’s municipal and school budgets on May 2 at the Annual Town Meeting — vote ‘Yes’ in support of what’s been proposed, even after the Board of Finance cut $1.4 million from what he originally asked for.
“I’m hoping everybody comes out and votes ‘Yes,’ to support this budget. I don’t support the ‘No, Too Low approach.’ I think ‘No’ could be really bad,” he said during the meeting’s discussion with BOE members.
Smith was referring to recent efforts promoting voting ‘No, Too Low’ being publicized in advertisements placed by residents in GOOD Morning Wilton and on social media, and being discussed at PTA meetings and elsewhere.
Voters at the Annual Town Meeting have three ballot options for the budget: ‘Yes, approve’; ‘No, the budget is too high’; or ‘No, the budget is too low’. After voting ends and the ballots are counted, the ‘No’ votes are added together; if the combined ‘No’ votes outnumber the ‘Yes’ votes (and more than 15% of the eligible voters turn out to vote)*, then the budget proposal is defeated and sent back to the Board of Finance. The BOF can then increase or further decrease the proposal — but given the significant $1.4 million decrease the BOF made to the proposed school budget during the budget deliberations, it’s unlikely BOF members would opt to add any money back.
Smith reinforced that explanation.
“I don’t want to be in a position where it’s a ‘No,’ and we have to go back and revise our budget even lower. And so I completely understand the ‘No, too low’ approach, but for me, I’m going to be voting ‘Yes’ as a resident.
The current proposed FY2024 BOE budget request is $89,181,692 — a 2.89% year-over-year increase but a $1.4 million reduction from the original $90,581,692 budget proposal.
The Board of Selectmen‘s proposed FY2024 budget is $34,473,595 — a 1.56% year-over-year increase. Together with charter authority and debt service, the total budget request is $134,951,947 for Fiscal Year 2024, which reflects a proposed 3.66% mill rate increase.
If the ‘No’ votes did win and returned the budget back to the Board of Finance with a larger number of ‘No Too Low’ votes, Smith said he was wary of any possible about-face from the Board of Finance. Even if that was the presumed message from voters, he doesn’t believe an increase would materialize; rather, he would anticipate further cuts.
“I think it could be worse. And I do think that we saw — for whatever stock you put in, the feedback we got through the Board of Finance survey — people are concerned about their taxes. And anyway, I just don’t want to be in a situation where we have to take another X-amount of dollars out of the budget,” he told the BOE members.
One other issue concerned Smith and the Board of Education members — the idea that the money being sought in the bonding proposal for the artificial turf field at Allen’s Meadow could be ‘returned’ to the school budget if that measure didn’t pass.
Voters will also be considering a request from Town officials to bond $1.935 million to build an artificial turf athletic field at Allen’s Meadow. It’s a project that has strong support from the athletic community and town officials, but it’s also received pushback from other community members who don’t want to see a change at Allen’s Meadow.
Thursday night, Smith addressed the idea the field cost could be diverted to the school budget.
“That’s an inaccuracy…. The turf field is going to be bonded. So those are bonded funds. That is not going to impact our operating fund. There’s not $2 million that can be reallocated from the proposed bond to our budget. They’re entirely separate things. So one does not influence the other,” he said.
Where would $1.4 million in cuts be made?
Smith addressed where he and his administrators would look to find places in the budget to trim the $1.4 million as directed by the Board of Finance.
Among some of the possible areas for reductions, Smith included personnel, in the form of one instructional coach, paraprofessionals, clerical support and more. Some club activities would be cut and possible equipment and materials purchases would also be eliminated.
Smith pointed out one particular line in his list of possible reduction areas showed a choice between three potential personnel reductions — one fifth grade classroom teacher; two 0.5 certified science teachers (one each at Cider Mill and Miller-Driscoll Schools); and 0.6 strings instruction and two 0.5 science paras.
He said he has eliminated the option of cutting a fifth grade classroom, and he is working with the arts instructional leaders to develop a plan that wouldn’t require eliminating the third-grade strings program at Cider Mill if the strings instructional time is reduced. And rather than cut the science teachers, he has focused on reducing the science paraprofessionals.
He also said if additional savings can be found, the first item to be added back into the budget from his list of reductions would be paraprofessional support in the Wilton High School library/media center.
At the moment, Smith didn’t feel the BOE needed to vote on approving his proposed list of reductions.
“Our budget will be our budget and then through the next several weeks and months we’ll continue to just refine and see where we are. Probably in late summer, we’ll come back to the board with a completely revised budget that’ll match whatever decisions have been made Does the Board of Ed need to vote on it again? I don’t technically think you do, but it might be worth the vote to accept just so that’s official and it’s on record. And then that becomes how the budget’s allocated through the remainder of next year,” he explained.
One other undefined question is where the planned personnel reductions that are built into the current budget proposal will happen. Some of the factors involved include calculating seniority, and any resignations and retirements that the district doesn’t yet know about.
“I’m kind of crossing my fingers and hoping that we also get a little more savings than we’re anticipating there, which also can, fingers crossed, have a beneficial impact. But some of the things may not comb through until even in the summertime. So just thinking about what this budget will actually look like, we’ll make the reduction to the appropriation that the Board of Finance has set,” Smith said, adding, “I’m hoping everybody comes out and votes ‘Yes, to support this budget.”
*If voter turnout is less than 15%, the proposed budget automatically passes.
Dear Mr. Smith,
Rather than eliminating the 5th grade classroom, why not a kindergarten or first grade classroom? Rather than filling these seats with “out-of-towners” from the urban areas, how about you (and others) stop the guilt trips, and Wilton live within our means and keep our taxes under control!
Vote “NO, TOO HIGH”
Too many non classroom administrators
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