There was no shortage of taxpayers eager to speak at the Wilton Board of Education’s presentation of its 2013-14 school budget at Middlebrook School auditorium on Thursday, Jan. 24.
Although most parents supported the proposed spending arrangement, there were frequent points of contention raised, especially regarding the proposed full-day kindergarten program.
School Superintendent Gary Richards recommended a budget of $77,300,422, which is a 4.39% increase on the current year, stemming from a proposal first given to the public at a Jan. 9 school board hearing.
The new proposal comprises 59.2% in salaries, 19.7% in employee benefits, and 12.3% in various supplies and equipment. Salaries are set to rise 3.2% on the year, totaling $45,776,047 if approved.
The public meeting, however, focused mostly on what has recently become a contentious shift, as Miller-Driscoll School’s “extended-day” kindergarten program is set to move to “all-day, every-day,” a term parents recited at the Jan. 24 hearing.
Although the school board said the move is not based on saving money, switching Wilton’s kindergarten program to all-day would create about $79,000 in savings, resulting from the coordination of a more effective and consistent student commute, according to Mr. Richards.
“By eliminating the new bus runs, we would save about $150,000,” he said.
“By moving staffing around, we would be decreasing two paraprofessionals at a cost of about $75,000. But around $141,000 will be added back in with a new kindergarten reading teacher,” he said.
Although the net benefit is not a significant driver to Wilton’s 2013-14 school board proposal, Dr. Richards said, the positive increase was referenced often at the presentation as parents brought more concerns about the kindergarten proposal to light.
Wilton parent Marissa Lowthert commended the quality of teaching at Wilton schools, but said parents have not had adequate time to consider the proposed spending.
“Wilton has a unique program where children get small-group instruction and the schools are recognized for developing well-rounded children.”
Miller-Driscoll School Principal Cheryl Jensen-Gerner said the proposal — despite the loss of paraprofessionals for a full-time reading teacher — will sufficiently accommodate students, especially regarding the teacher-student ratio.
“Currently the model in the afternoon is one teacher to 10 students,” she said. “We look at the new program as enhancing and expanding all three grades.”
Other major budgetary expenditures include an assortment of health benefits — roughly a fifth of the total budget— and retirement plans, workers’ compensation, and other employee benefits.
Construction, repairs and maintenance are expected to come at less expense to the Wilton taxpayer in the coming year. The new proposal estimates such costs to be 1.5% less than in the current budget.
Major remodeling and repair projects in the coming year account for about $450,000.
The cost of supplies, equipment and contracted services is expected to grow by 14.6% from the current year to a total of $9,522,273, an estimated increase of $1,209,677.
Transportation for athletic programs is also expected to rise, by about 3.4%, to an expected $150,000, according to the proposal.
The number of students per class is expected to mostly fall within the school board’s desired range, which is 18 to 20 for kindergarten to first grade classes and 20 to 22 for second grade to high school levels.
Social studies classes at the middle school and high school levels might be slightly larger than the school board’s ideal range, as might some middle school science classes, according to the proposal.
The Board of Education and Board of Finance will have a budget workshop Monday, Feb. 11, at 7:30 p.m. in the Wilton High School Professional Library. The school board will also meet with the Board of Selectmen for a capital discussion on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 7:30 p.m. at town hall in Room B.
For more information, visit wilton.k12.ct.us.