Wilton Schools Superintendent Kevin Smith presented his proposed budget for FY 2020-2021 to the Board of Education last night (Thursday, Jan. 16). The budget he is proposing represents a 2.58% increase over the current year’s budget, or $2,112,581 more. That would bring his total proposed budget to $83,989,144.
As BOE chair Debbie Low introduced Smith at the start of his presentation, she emphasized the word “proposed” and noted that the presentation “…marks the first step in a public process of determining the school budget proposal that will be presented at the Annual Town Meeting in May.”
She also said that the board members had not seen any budget documents or heard any amounts being proposed prior to yesterday evening.
“This is new information to board members tonight. As is our tradition, we will spend tonight listening, carefully, and then reviewing the materials and preparing questions for the three budget workshops next week,” Low said.
Smith said, “As always a great deal of thought, time and effort went into crafting the proposal.”
Elements Reflected in the Budget
Smith emphasized that the 2.58% increase in his budget is in comparison to the current year’s budget–and not to the actual expenditure.
That’s because the 2019-2020 approved budget did not include the amount allocated ($468,000) from the town’s Charter authority by the Board of Finance to the Genesis alternative school program. The 2020-2021 budget now includes Genesis in its budget–specifically, $598,079 for total operating costs for the Genesis program for 2020-2021.
“If you consider the total education spend–that would be our operating budget plus the $468,000 approved by the Board of Finance–which raises the number to $82,344,564 for this current year. Compared to this proposed budget, which now incorporates Genesis funding, what we’re looking at is a total increase year-over-year of about 1.99%.”
Smith reinforced that the budget-to-budget increase of 2.58% did not reflect the actual year-to-year expenditure increase of 1.99%.
He noted that there were several budget assumptions reflected in the budget he was presenting, most notably that the school district has to honor collective bargaining agreements and assume certain cost increases. Among those increases are that liability insurance will increase 5%; medical insurance will rise 4-6%; transportation costs will increase 4%; and contributions to employee post employment benefits will also go up 6%.
Smith also included a forecasted enrollment decline of approximately 54 students.
As far as the major cost drivers of the budget, Smith spelled it out directly in his presentation slides.
- Salaries: $53,273,221
- Insurance and Benefits: $11,101,460
- Utilities: $1,555,060
- Transportation: $3,734,290
- Building Maintenance and Cleaning Supplies: $1,144,649
- Instructional Supplies and Digital Resources: $1,496,202
- Equipment and Furniture: $303,205
- Technology: $2,294,723
“School districts are human resource operations, so the majority of dollars are commonly supporting our staff through salaries and benefits,” Smith said, noting that these two categories account for just over 75% of the total operating budget.
He also said that that the allocation for Building Maintenance and Cleaning Supplies is a “significant bump” over the current year.
Comparing Wilton’s per pupil spending with other schools in the district reference group (DRG), Smith said that Wilton consistently has one of the lowest expenditures. He also highlighted the four-year increase in per-pupil spending, showing Wilton with the lowest amount of increase compared to neighboring school districts.
The district anticipates an overall K-12 enrollment of 3,760 students, which includes 20 students enrolled in Genesis. That represents a decline of 54 students from 2019.
Adding in the projected number of Pre-K students (70), outplaced students (20), and students participating in Community Steps (10), Smith foresees an overall enrollment total of 3,860 students. He noted that the number of outplaced students will decline from 26, a trend he called a “good news story.”
For proposed staffing changes, the budget reflects an increase of 4.0 certified staff, and a decrease of 4.95 non-certified staff (classified/custodial/Support). Smith said the increase will come primarily in the number of special educators, while the decrease will reflect in the number of paraprofessionals.
Smith also said there would be a planned reduction of two certified classroom teachers at Cider Mill, due to enrollment changes projected for that school.
He noted that the district has been asked questions about whether or not staffing has kept pace with the enrollment declines. “Since 2015-2016, we have reduced about 16.5 FTE through today. We certainly are responding to the enrollment decline. What we’ve also been doing is staffing to our needs, so we’re staffing in areas that aren’t necessarily enrollment sensitive like a classroom teacher might be.”
Smith has made improvements to Middlebrook a funding priority. Building repair spending is being proposed at $530,000 for the first phase of a multi-year project. He said he hoped the project could be completed in two years. Included in the maintenance that Smith said is necessary is replacing carpeting with flooring tile; renovating restrooms outside the auditorium “in need of significant repair”; ceiling tile replacement; painting; lighting upgrades; and costs for movers needed to complete the project.
Smith also highlighted the costs avoided by the district with implementing the Genesis program. Comparing the estimated cost per Genesis pupil at $29,903, with the $120,000 it typically costs per each outplaced student, he said the district is avoiding significant costs. In terms of concrete savings, Smith noted that of the 16 students currently enrolled, five avoided outplacement and two returned from outplacement.
He also described the trend in cost containment over the last couple of years, thanks to keeping more students in district. In 2019, the actual amount spent on out of district tuition was $4,741,950; in 2020, the budgeted out of district tuition dropped to $3,153,816; for FY21, Smith is projecting out of district tuition to drop even more, to $2,850,000. Estimated savings will also be realized in transportation to the tune of $53,315.
Low outlined the schedule for how the BOE will begin to work with Smith and district leaders on solidifying the budget before adopting it as their own to bring to the town meeting. “There is much more to come, and this is the first step,” she said.
- The BOE holds three budget workshops to ask questions of administrators, Tuesday, Jan. 21; Wednesday, Jan. 22; and Thursday, Jan. 23. Meetings on all days run 1-3 p.m. in the WHS Professional Library. These meetings are open to the public.
- There will be a public presentation of the superintendent’s proposed budget on Thursday, Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. at the Middlebrook School Auditorium.
- The BOE members will continue deliberating the budget at a special meeting on Thursday, Jan. 30, and later will invite the Board of Finance to join them on Thursday, Feb. 6 (7 p.m. in the WHS Professional Library).
- The BOE will vote on the proposed budget on Thursday, Feb. 20.
- The Bd. of Finance will hold a public hearing on both the Town and School proposed budgets on Monday, March 23, at 7 p.m. in the Middlebrook Auditorium.