Last week, Sensible Wilton sent a letter to the editor detailing materials they prepared and sent to Wilton Public School‘s superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith and to the town’s three major boards (BoF, BoS and BoE) over the summer. GOOD Morning Wilton published that letter on Friday, Sept. 11.
The email and an attached document titled, “It’s Not 2008 Anymore,” argued that the current plan and budget for the Miller-Driscoll renovation, “is fiscally irresponsible and not based on reality.” The group said it based its argument on their belief that the existing plan calling for 50 classrooms “far exceeds any realistic projection of enrollments.” They referenced enrollment figures and projections from three different reports commissioned by the school district itself. The group laid out a plan which they felt better suited the project and that would “save the town millions of dollars” by fitting a renovated building into the existing footprint rather than pursuing the more extensive renovations and design that the town has opted to do.
At the most recent Board of Education meeting on Thursday, Sept. 10, Dr. Smith addressed the email and presented evidence which he says refutes Sensible Wilton’s positions. He also suggests that some points of what Sensible Wilton has proposed might actually drive up costs rather than reduce them. Smith has made his remarks available on the town website.
Chief among Sensible Wilton’s complaints are that enrollment projections actually show enrollment dropping, and that the renovations will result in a school much larger than what will be needed.
Smith argues that the project’s purpose is to “renovate and upgrade M-D School in order to extend the useful life of the building and site…for the next 25-30 years.” He says that, yes, there will be an initial decline in enrollment, but that by 8-10 years out, evidence shows that there will be a “trend reversal…attributed to a rebound in births beginning in 2015 [and] stable in-migration of families with children at or near school age.” He also says that the project’s Educational Specifications were prepared with that finding in mind, as well as likely enrollment fluctuations, and adds, “I do not believe the building will have wasted space.”
Smith says not only does Sensible Wilton’s enrollment projection complaint not merit a change in project scope or reduction in number of classrooms, but that doing so would cost more rather than less: “To do might actually have the opposite effect of driving up costs by delaying the project.”
Smith also addressed the Sensible Wilton complaint that the plan calls for too many more preschool classrooms than are needed. The superintendent disagreed with that assertion by explaining that best practice is to have at least a 1-to-1 ratio of typical peer model students to students with disabilities. Because the program has experienced a “steady increase” in the number of students with disabilities, the preschool has had to decrease the number of nwndisabled students because of lack of space.
“The additional space afforded by a fifth preschool classroom would enable us to meet best practice criteria by including significantly more non-disabled students in the program,” he said.
Comparing Enrollment with Nearby Towns
He says that Sensible Wilton is correct in pointing to enrollment declines in Ridgefield, Easton and Newtown. However, says Smith, what they didn’t note is that enrollment is projected to increase in New Canaan and remain stable in Darien.
Cost Difference Between Current Project Budget and “Deferred Maintenance Only”
Smith points out that the difference between the current budget (projected to be $43,894,000) and the “rough estimate” for a “deferred maintenance only” budget ($42,713,000) is $1,181,000. Perhaps he’s suggesting that the difference was seen to be a worthwhile one to accept because he states that, “the BoS reviewed these cost comparisons [and] concluded that the building project as is currently described was the best value in the long term and would best meet the education needs of our community for the next 25-30 years.”
He concludes by pointing out that there has already been $6.3 million spent on the project. “To unnecessarily go back to the drawing board at this point could increase costs and delay the project.”