Many thanks to the hundreds of voters who turned out last week to support the 2016-17 operating budget for our schools. Because of your support, we were able to defeat a motion made at the Annual Town Meeting to reduce our budget by $800,000, as well as determined efforts to defeat the school budget at the ballot box.
We still have some work to do, though, before we can consider the school budget final. You may recall that the Board of Finance reduced the school budget by $400,000, and we have yet to finalize how to implement those cuts. Plus, we still face the uncertainty of the budget chaos occurring in Hartford. While it appears our Education Cost Grant may not be eliminated entirely, as Gov. Malloy initially proposed, it remains to be seen how Wilton will ultimately be affected.
Regardless of the amount the school budget ends up being reduced, please know we will work hard to avoid reductions in personnel and activities that directly affect curriculum instruction.
To that point, I’d like to address a myth that seems to be making its way around town, that certain teachers have already been advised that their positions are being eliminated due to spending cuts. This is not true.
It is true that there will be staff cutbacks next year, mostly because of reduced enrollment in certain grades, or because of changes in the way instruction is being delivered. For example, several paraprofessional positions will be eliminated next year because of a fundamental shift in how reading instruction will be delivered. Going forward, certified reading specialists will provide instruction previously offered by paraprofessionals. This use of “most qualified” instructors will accelerate student progress, thereby reducing the duration of time a student may need reading support. The paraprofessional reductions, along with other headcount adjustments, were included in the superintendent’s budget that was first proposed last December, and are not a result of recent budget developments. The board will revisit the budget at its next regular meeting, scheduled for May 26, where I expect we will consider recommendations to address the $400,000 reduction mandated by the Board of Finance. And again, every effort will be made to shield classroom instruction from any spending reductions.
Now for some happier news — an exciting proposal to create a “Wilton Public Schools Hall of Fame.” As we are all aware, Wilton has been blessed to have some extraordinary students pass through its halls over the years, students who graduated from Wilton High School and went on to establish themselves in a manner that achieved national recognition. This applies to our teachers and staff members as well. Over the years, we have had numerous individuals distinguish themselves in academia, business, athletics, the arts, community service, and in so many other capacities.
If we could, we would name a building after each of them. That is not realistic of course, so we were delighted when the idea of a Hall of Fame developed. Although still in the planning stages, the Wilton Public Schools Hall of Fame will eventually be located in the glass hallway to the right of the Clune Center’s Zellner Gallery. Each inductee will be honored either with a discrete plaque that includes a photograph of the inductee and information about the individual’s unique accomplishments, or as part of a larger plaque listing inductees with like accomplishments.
We are working to flesh out all the details. An obvious need will be to establish strong criteria for induction. We’ll work to ensure those standards are as clear as possible. I mentioned, for example, that an individual would need to have attained national stature. Well, there are a lot of ways to gain national stature, and not all of them warrant commemoration in a Hall of Fame. So we will be careful to define criteria for eligibility, and I imagine we’ll include standards that address individual character.
At this point the Hall of Fame is in the early planning stages. I think it’s a wonderful tribute, and we would appreciate input from community members as we work through the details.
In the meantime, mid-May is always an exciting time in Wilton. Among other things, our high school sports teams are in full swing. Whether your interest is in lacrosse, baseball, track or tennis, there are scores of talented high school athletes out on our playing fields every day. Give yourself a treat and stop by one day to enjoy the entertainment of competition and cheer them on!