Notes from the Board Table: Recognizing a vital foundation

I don’t think we say it often enough, so let me take a moment to express my deep gratitude and admiration for the Wilton Education Foundation (WEF). At our March 27 Board of Education (BOE) meeting, Dr. Richards gave a short summary of last week’s WEF-sponsored Acoustic Wilton concert in the WHS Little Theatre. As we have come to expect, the event was a resounding success and featured an evening of student and community musicians who entertained with a mix of original and well-known tunes.

But beyond our enjoyment of Acoustic Wilton or “Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader,” or any other WEF-sponsored event, is the fact that most of the funds raised are gifted to the Wilton schools. WEF’s mission is to advance technology, the arts, and professional learning, and last year the foundation donated more than $100,000 toward these efforts. These funds come from the hard work of WEF volunteers who spend countless hours organizing and manning these events, and from members of our community who show support through their attendance and donations.

Because of WEF’s generosity, we have been able to accelerate integration of technology throughout our schools. WEF funds have allowed us to purchase additional SMARTBoards, funded professional development opportunities for many of our teachers, and allowed us to bring in accomplished fine arts professionals and other guest speakers to enrich our curriculum.

As the chairman of the BOE, I have seen firsthand the important contributions WEF makes to our schools, and encourage every member of our community to support this wonderful volunteer-led organization.

We also had an opportunity at our board meeting to thank publicly the Wilton Security Task Force, which has been operating for the past year under the leadership of Second Selectman Hal Clark. The BOE received a detailed executive session briefing from task force members, including recommendations for improving security throughout each of the schools.

Although the specific details of those recommendations must remain confidential, I think it’s important to let parents know that a comprehensive safety plan has been developed that incorporates a wide range of security upgrades and enhancements.

Task force members shared with us the sobering statistic that 80% of school violence perpetrators are members of the school community, who often signal their violent intentions.  This “threat from within” is a key driver in our 2014-15 operating budget request to hire an additional school resource officer along with a threat assessment coordinator. The threat assessment coordinator will be a forensic psychologist assigned to evaluate at-risk individuals districtwide.

The security task force’s recommendations — beyond the two-headcount positions in our schools — will cost roughly $500,000. A proposal to fund the recommendations via a capital bond will be on the ballot in May. We will certainly remind you of this as the date draws nearer, but please be aware that security funding will be contingent upon the outcome of that vote.

Speaking of the budget, many thanks to those residents who turned out last week for the Board of Finance’s public hearing on our proposed operating budget. As it stands now, our budget calls for a 3.94% increase over current spending levels. That increase breaks down as follows:

• General Education: 2.15% increase;

• Special Education: 8.78% increase;

• Security: 225% increase (includes hiring of school resource officer and threat assessment coordinator).

The Board of Finance continued its evaluation of our budget with a public meeting April 1. The purpose of the meeting was for the Board of Finance to establish the mill rate. In accordance with the Town Charter, it may offer direction with regard to our budget. Some years the Board of Finance accepts our budget as presented and in other years, they act to reduce it. As I said at last week’s public hearing, quality costs money, and if we want to protect our schools — our town’s greatest asset — we need to be willing to fund our investment.

Finally, a quick reminder:  The Miller-Driscoll Spring Spectacular Carnival is scheduled for this weekend. The event will feature carnival rides, games and prizes for the whole family, so I hope you can take advantage of what will surely be a great event. And while you are there, please stop by the Miller-Driscoll Building Committee booth. As you may know, the Board of Selectmen approved a renovation design plan. Members of the building committee will be on hand with copies of the proposed renovations and to answer questions.