Notes from the Board Table

It was a busy week in Wilton, with dozens of parents, teachers, administrators, students, and community members participating in forums related to our efforts to find a successor for Dr. Richards. Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates (HYA), the executive search firm assisting us in this endeavor, conducted two community discussions in addition to many smaller focus groups. HYA will evaluate then share the feedback received via these meetings and the online survey (which had approximately 500 respondents) to help us refine the profile and characteristics we are looking for in a new superintendent. That profile will then be used to identify potential candidates.

As I have mentioned previously, our goal is to have a new superintendent identified by the end of the year. If identifying and hiring a new superintendent is not possible by then, we will look to take Dr. Richards up on his generous offer to help fill part or all of any gap in coverage we might have. Recruiting a new superintendent will, of course, continue to be a front-burner issue for the next several months. And so will several other high-priority topics!

Budget issues are always foremost on our priority list, and the board was very interested in the financial report presented at our Oct. 30 meeting by Ken Post, district finance director. Ken informed us that as of Sept. 30, the schools are operating at a $334,000 deficit. This shortfall is attributable to unforeseeable special education outplacement costs.

Directly related to our higher-than-expected special education costs is the enrollment report that became available last week. One of the great uncertainties of managing a public school system is predicting exactly how many students will arrive when the doors open each fall. A number of families leave the district during the summer months, and a number move in — often with little to no warning. In a perfect world we would have advance notification about all new students, including complete records for each child, and be fully apprised of any special needs. Sadly, this is the exception rather than the norm, and the early days of fall bring an element of surprise as we wait to see exactly how many students arrive.

Keep in mind there is a budget impact to our enrollment projections. Our 2013-14 operating budget is based on the number of students estimated to enroll. Wilton taxpayers spend on average over $17,000 to educate each of those students. Enrollment that exceeds expectations requires additional resources and funds.

We do have reasonably accurate ways of predicting enrollment. For the past several years Ellen Essman, a local actuary, has graciously volunteered her time and energy to help us with enrollment estimates. Mrs. Essman uses a systematic process that takes into consideration several variables, including five-year enrollment trends, Wilton birth rates, housing starts, economic conditions, and census data. Based on this model, we expect no change in enrollment for 2014-15.

As of Oct. 1, we have 4,224 PreK-12 students enrolled in our schools. We expect the same number to enroll during the 2014-15 school year. The enrollment report is posted on the district website. I encourage you to spend a few minutes reviewing the estimates — it really is quite interesting. Please note that this model is not designed to accurately predict enrollment projections further than one year out.

Also interesting reading is our district testing report (also on the website). I am certain our local media outlets will report on itemized test scores and comparative rankings, so I will not focus on our specific results. I will say that all in all, we are pleased with these results. Wilton students continue to perform well above state averages, and to compare favorably to students in our demographic reference group (DRG A). That said, we did notice a slight decline in writing scores in grades four, five, six, and seven when compared against students in DRG A schools. While our students’ scores were well above the state average, staff and administrators at Cider Mill and Middlebrook are focused on targeting specific strategies to improve student performance in developing their critical writing skills.

Thank you, again, to all who have become involved in our superintendent search efforts. I will certainly keep the town informed as the search progresses.