At Thursday night’s Board of Education meeting, superintendent Kevin Smith presented his proposed operating budget for fiscal year 2020 (FY-20). Smith’s proposed $82,983,607 budget for 2019-2020 represents an increase of $1,107,044 or a 1.35% year-to-year rise.
Still, this budget proposal falls below the guidance of a 1.6% increase recommended by the Wilton Board of Finance.
Smith told the board that his budget, despite being lower than what the BOF recommended, attains the goal he set in November–to provide adequate funding to maintain and improve the high quality education offered by the district PK-12.
It also includes funding for an alternative school program, a secondary special education coordinator, capital improvements, and the third year of the district’s digital learning plan. It also keeps class sizes within BOE guidelines.
Smith explained that the budget also accounts for certain fixed cost increases, in areas that account for nearly 80% of total spending, including salaries and health care, and energy and transportation costs:
- Teacher salaries will increase 3.0%
- Administrator salaries will increase 3.4%
- Custodian salaries will increase 2.0%
- Secretary and paraprofessional salaries will increase 2.3%
- Utilities will increase 6.0%
- Liability insurance costs will increase 5.0%
- Transportation costs will increase by 4.0%
There are some decreases accounted for, including medical insurance costs decreasing 4.6% and employer contributions to pension and OPEB. The budget also addresses a projected enrollment decline of 35 students (3,835 total for 2019-2020).
The superintendent’s spending plan includes funding for four new courses at Wilton High School which include:
- Data Structures and Algorithms
- Executive Functioning for High School and Beyond
- United States History
- Peer Leadership
It also reflects an increase in staff and FTEs (full-time equivalents)–7.5 additional FTEs are included in the FY-20 budget. That includes three new teachers for an alternative school, two job coaches for the Community Steps 18-21 program, another kindergarten teacher, and additional preschool staff to accommodate the addition of a 6th preschool classroom.
Smith noted that while these staff additions increase the budget short-term, they reflect the opportunity for greater long-term ‘cost-avoidance,’ because they represent money-saving program changes. He illustrated this assertion with the example of the Community Steps program, which he says has helped the district ‘avoid’ approximately $300,000 in tuition costs over the two years since the program was introduced, because those students have stayed in district rather than be outplaced.
Coming in Below BOF Guidance
Board members questioned whether the budget could be larger to meet the BOF 1.6% increase guidance–”Could we spend the other money? Is there a need?” asked BOE member Glenn Hemmerle. “To push back, are there things we are not doing that we should be doing?”
Smith said, “We always make choices. It goes without saying we could always do more–we’re not always ready to do more. We do have reasons why we defer opportunities and investments.”
He also noted that in comparison to the other school districts in the District Reference Group (DRG), Wilton’s annual increases have been “modest over the last 5-6 years, and our increases are well below our DRG counterparts, with the exception of Redding, which in the last year has posted more significant increases.” Wilton is also the third lowest in the DRG in per-pupil spending. “Wilton spends conservatively and achieves highly,” Smith said.
The budget seemed to be received positively by the Board of Education members.
“I’m hoping at the end of this process that we can see this as a win-win budget–that we win for the needs of our district and win on the financial side, coming in below the BOF guidance and seems to accomplish our goals,” BOE member Deborah Low said.
Hemmerle praised the administration. “Great job, well done. I’m sure all of you would love to have more.”
The Board of Education will deliberate the spending proposal during a number of planned workshops and meetings over the next month. The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on a spending plan on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019.
- BOE Budget Workshops Jan. 22-Jan. 24, 1-3 p.m.
- Superintendent’s Community Presentation: Jan. 24, 7 p.m.
- BOE Special Meeting: Jan 31, 7 p.m.
- BOE Regular Meeting: Feb. 7, 7 pm.
- BOE/BOF Joint Meeting: Feb. 14
- BOE Meeting to approve budget: Feb. 21, 7 p.m.
- BOF Public Hearing on BOE Budget: Monday, March 25, 7:30 p.m.