by Bruce Likly, Chairman, Wilton Board of Education

Our April 25 board meeting allowed us to take a break from our ongoing budget deliberations, and focus on some of the truly amazing things going on in our schools.

A few years ago, a handful of high school students founded a club called the “Top Inclusion Models,” for the purpose of creating an inclusive atmosphere in which all students, particularly those with disabilities, could feel welcome and respected. Top Inclusion club members promote their positive message in a number of ways, including “Disability Awareness Week,” and an ongoing campaign to “Ban the ‘R’ Word.” This year’s club presidents, Lydia Freliech, Julia Monro and Nicki Rutishauser, presented the board with an update on their accomplishments. We were treated to a very touching video that featured WHS students and teachers sharing their thoughts about the inappropriateness of “the ‘R’ word.” As Ms. Monro said, her purpose has been to “transform disability into ability.” Our sincere congratulations to the leaders of this club, and to the hundreds of WHS students who participate and carry forth its important message.

And on the subject of Wilton High School, we learned last week that WHS was rated the sixth best high school in Connecticut by U.S. News & World Report magazine. Nationwide, WHS ranks number 292, and has been awarded a gold medal by the magazine. The magazine reviewed a total of 21,035 high schools nationwide. Of those, 2% received gold medals, 7% received silver medals, 13% won bronze medals, and 78% were not awarded medals.

While we are very proud of this award, we are mindful that the criteria for recognition are based on a limited range of measures. Nevertheless, Wilton can be very proud that our investment in our students and our schools has been recognized in such a significant manner.

Every year we are treated to an update from the Continuing Education team, Ms. Delores Tufariello and Ms. Emily Dowden. Continuing Education is a self-sustaining arm of our education system that offers a multitude of courses targeted at virtually every segment of the Wilton population. Ms. Tufariello informed the Board that currently the three most popular course offerings include Organic Gardening, Bikram Yoga, and regular Yoga. We were also updated on some significant improvements that have been made to the Cider Mill afterschool program, including new laptops and iPads. I strongly encourage you to visit their website and check out their very impressive course offerings, wiltoncontinuinged.org. Maybe I’ll see you in Craft Beer class!

As much as we enjoyed hearing about these positive developments, we were quickly brought back to Earth by Director of Finance Ken Post, who presented the March financial report. As of March 31, the district was operating with a deficit of more than $970,000, due entirely to special education outplacements and contractual services. As I hope I have adequately explained, we are mandated by the state to fully meet the needs of our developmentally challenged students. We are not, however, reimbursed in full by the state for providing those services.  We estimate the state will reimburse us 65%-70% of these costs. The remainder of the shortfall will be addressed through a freeze that was implemented earlier this year on certain budget areas.

Which brings me to the 2013-14 budget. If you have not had a chance to read the “Notes from the Board” from our April 9 special meeting, I encourage you to do so. That document includes a detailed overview of the steps we took to arrive at our current budget proposal. We were instructed by the Board of Finance to cut $750,000 from our budget, and encouraged to collect $400,000 from parents in the form of participation fees. Instead, we chose to make the cuts by “spreading the pain” across all eligible spending areas, and to impose $160,000 in participation fees.

Our proposed budget increase represents a 2.82% increase over current spending levels. However, the majority of that increase is due to special education and contractual obligations. If you remove those two categories, over which we have little control, our actual increase would be 0.49%.

If you would like more information, a copy of our revised budget is posted on our website: http://www.wilton.k12.ct.us/files/_oBCu5_/00f55a2582cbdf803745a49013852ec4/2013-14_Revised_Operating_Budget.pdf

Wilton’s annual Town Meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, May 7, at 7:30 p.m. in the Middlebrook auditorium. Voting on the budget will begin immediately following the meeting, and will continue all day on Saturday, May 11. I urge you to mark your calendars.