Notes from the Board Table: First budget steps

Something very exciting took place in the Middlebrook Media Center last Monday evening, something that signals the start of a new way of going about our work, as we begin the process of developing a budget for the 2015-16 school year. That special something, was a “community conversation,” whereby all Wilton residents were invited to meet with Superintendent Smith, Board of Education members, and members of the district’s administrative team.

Dr. Smith scheduled the event as a way to solicit community feedback as we begin to build next year’s budget. Our goal is to create a transparent budget process, whereby community members are fully engaged in the process, and are kept informed as the budget moves through its development process. Although the event did not garner the level of participation we had hoped for, we were certainly impressed by the highly motivated and well-informed residents who did attend.

Participants took part in “round table” discussions, and were encouraged to share their thoughts on a range of budget issues — what they like about current budget priorities, what they don’t like, areas they’d like to see included in next year’s budget, and thoughts about how we might become more cost efficient.

For example, participants at my table included parents from each of the schools, new Wilton residents, citizens whose youngest children graduated from Wilton High School in 1982, and the head of a group that calls itself Sensible Wilton. Our group’s discussion ranged from thoughts about what the district does well — graduation rates and high numbers of Wilton students accepted to top tier colleges and universities, to areas people would like the board and administration to examine more closely — costs of delivering special education services, athletics, and the need for more enrichment opportunities, as examples.

To a person, I think everyone who attended the event felt it was a worthwhile exercise. I know I benefited greatly from hearing people’s ideas and concerns.  This input will certainly be taken into consideration as we continue the budget process.

Anyone who was unable to attend the Community Conversation, but would like to weigh in, can do so by accessing the questionnaire used that evening, which has been posted to the district website.

The next step in the budget process takes place on Thursday, Dec. 18, when Dr. Smith will present the board with his initial spending plan. That meeting is open to the public and will take place at 6 p.m. in the Wilton High School professional library.

We will be posting all budget-related information on the district website. I truly hope that all members of the community will take the time to follow the budget process, and to share their views as decisions are being made.

And while you’re on the website, I’d also like to direct your attention to a new video that was just posted by our Information Technology Department. The video offers a short, but very impressive, overview of the ways in which technology has been fully integrated into our students’ schooldays. From our youngest learners at Miller-Driscoll on up, technology touches every one of our children’s’ education in so many ways.

The video was presented by Matt Hepfer, our district director of technology who, joined by IT instructional leaders from each school, Bryan Ennis (Miller-Driscoll), Jason Greasley (Cider Mill), Tim Ley (Middlebrook) and Amy Korn (WHS) showcased some truly exceptional technology innovations happening on a regular basis in our schools.

Parents may be aware, for example, that the district is making tremendous use of Google’s “Apps for Education,” which allow teachers and students to communicate, store files and collaborate on documents, spreadsheets and presentations, from within our online secure environment. Google Apps are available free to the district, and have enabled a new level of instructional learning and coordination.

The board was also treated to the technology prowess of WHS senior Cooper Pellaton, who impressed us with an interactive demonstration of Google Glass. I wish all members of our community could have witnessed Mr. Pellaton’s mastery of the complicated subjects of computer science and code writing.

Technology is a constantly changing environment, in which today’s “hot” idea can be obsolete in a matter of months. Making sure our schools are in sync with the latest and greatest in technological thinking is certainly a challenge, but something to which our teachers, administrators and board are all committed.