Finance board questions salary hike, enrollments and more

Board of Finance members, from left, Lynne Vanderslice, Warren Serenbetz, Al Alper and Jeffrey Rutishauser. (Kendra Baker photo)

Board of Finance members, from left, Lynne Vanderslice, Warren Serenbetz, Al Alper and Jeffrey Rutishauser. (Kendra Baker photo)

After reviewing the $79,956,024 proposed education budget for fiscal year 2016, the Board of Finance had some questions, which the Board of Education answered. The finance board reviewed the answers during its Feb. 24 meeting.

Some of the finance board’s 33 questions were about the increase in special education spending, a change in the assistant superintendent’s salary, enrichment programs, and student enrollment.

Special education

With $3,865,367 proposed for special education tuition next year — an $813,609 increase over the current year, the finance board asked the education board to explain what is driving the special education expense up each year.

“It seems extraordinary to see that in some class years as much as 19% of the students are in SPED,” wrote the finance board, which applauded the education board for deciding to hire specialized consultant group District Management Council to perform a review of the school district’s special education services.

In response to the board’s question, Assistant Superintendent of Special Services Ann Paul said the district has provided “special education and related services to an increasing number of students with complex learning, functional and communication needs.”

“These students require per their special education IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) a wide range of services to improve their access to their education and functional growth,” she said. “The services provided are within state mandates and state/federal regulations.”

Salary change

The proposed budget represents a 1.98% increase over the current fiscal year, and salaries contribute to 60.5% of that overall increase.

The proposed budget includes an 11.3% budgeted increase in Assistant Superintendent Charles Smith’s salary, which led the finance board to ask, “Is this consistent with other administrators?”

Finance Director Ken Post explained that the increase is a result of “an adjustment to the assistant superintendent’s salary to bring it in line with other DRG-A assistant superintendents.”

“For those administrators covered by the Wilton Association of School Administrators contract, the average budgeted increase is 2.25%,” he added.

Enrichment

The finance board questioned why the amount budgeted for gifted programs is “so tiny” in some cases and what the plan is for restoring enrichment programs.

Citing the proposed budget, the finance board said it could find only “0.5 FTE for Middlebrook, $250 for Miller-Driscoll and $14,386 for Cider Mill that were identified as budget expenditures for the ‘gifted,’” which the board said “seems light for such an important initiative of the BOE.”

Superintendent Kevin Smith explained how the board learned about a “substantial surplus” in the continuing education account.

“Given that continuing ed already offers a number of enrichment programs, we are working on plans to expand after-school enrichment offerings through continuing education,” said Dr. Smith.

“These programs would be funded through the surplus monies in the continuing education account and run at very little or no cost to participants.”

Dr. Smith added that the Wilton Education Foundation is “currently entertaining” a grant proposal that would “build television/digital production studios in each of the lower schools” and includes stipends for staff.

Enrollment

The forecast for the 2015-16 school year is a decrease of 100 students.

The finance board questioned why the number of Cider Mill students over the past three years has fallen by 1.5% while the total costs have risen by 8.6%, “with per pupil expenditure rising 10.3% over the three-year period” — from $9,018 to $8,178.

Mr. Post said that with the exception of general classroom teachers, “most costs of running a school are not impacted as directly by the relatively small decreases in enrollment we have been experiencing in recent years.”

Mr. Post said the district began a “thorough review of all staffing positions” as it prepared the budget request and the Cider Mill budget request includes the reduction of two classroom teachers and a part-time clerical position.

“The staffing review process will continue as we begin preparations for our 2016-2017 budget request,” said Mr. Post.

“Many of the other costs of running a school, such as utilities, repairs and maintenance, and other building-related costs, are not impacted by declining — or increasing — enrollments.”

Additional questions

After reviewing the education board’s responses to their questions, finance board members decided to seek more information on certain topics, like Common Core and its effect on staffing.

Board of Finance member Lynne Vanderslice said Common Core is one reason why the district has added two curriculum coordinators and six district coaches, each of which cost $80,356.

As the district adds these eight new positions, it would eliminate two full-time resource teachers — a savings of $160,712 — as well as $134,114 worth of language arts, math, science, and social studies instructional leadership positions.

By eliminating these positions, which cost the district $294,826, the district would wind up spending $348,022, rather than $642,848, on the curriculum coordinators and district coaches.

Ms. Vanderslice said she thinks it would be important for the finance board and the public to understand Common Core’s influence on staffing changes.

“If Wilton has to add all that staff, what’s happening in the inner city, where they’re much further behind?” said Ms. Vanderslice.

“I’m just surprised that Wilton — it’s such a high-achieving school — has to add so much staff to be able to adopt Common Core.”

Finance board members decided to have the Board of Education address their additional questions during their next meeting, on Tuesday, March 17, at 7:30 p.m. in Room B of town hall.

Click here to view the Board of Finance questions and the Board of Education responses.

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