Wilton schools budget proposed at $84 million
WILTON — Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith gave the Board of Education its first look at his $84-million budget request Thursday night, representing a 2.58-percent increase over last year’s approved operating budget of $81.9 million.
He said, however, that his $83,989,144 total request for the 2020-21 school year includes $598,079 for the Genesis Alternative School program.
“You’ll recall that Genesis was not funded through this year’s operating budget,” Smith noted, with an additional allocation of $468,000 from the town’s Charter Authority added to the $81,876,564 initially approved, for a total of $82,344,564.
“So if you consider the total operating budget (it’s) just a hair under two percent,” he said.
Smith called Genesis one of two major funding areas — the other being $530,000 for this year’s step in the Middlebrook Capital Improvement Plan. What he said is the first phase of work there will include floor and ceiling tile installation and replacement, work on an auditorium restroom, painting and other details.
Property and maintenance represent a 120-percent increase over the current the budget, and include a $1.1-million total request.
Smith’s budget requests the addition of four certified full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers primarily in special education, but at the same time will cut five FTE special education paraprofessionals.
He noted that over the past five years they have reduced total FTE by about 16.5, “so we are certainly responding to the enrollment decline,” he said.
Smith’s budget assumes a decrease of 54 students to 3,760 across K-12, with numbers for 2020-21 potentially going up by 19 for K-2, but decreasing dramatically in grades 3-8 by 75 students, with two additional projected at the high school.
In his budget, overall salaries increase by $1.35 million, while insurance and benefits go up $300,000, for a combined total request of $62,899,681. The total increase is about 3 percent and amounts to just over three-quarters of the total budget.
Smith said he is also setting aside $100,000 for a potential new kindergarten teacher hire, but said it was too early to tell if they would need one.
“We’re just not sure,” he said, noting that enrollment numbers “have not been stable” the last few years.
Instructional supplies and digital learning, which Smith said is a district priority, would also see a 19-percent increase with a $1.7-million request.
Furniture and equipment would also increase by 41 percent with a $303,000 request for next year. Technology would see a 16-percent increase with a $2.3-million request for next year.
Smith said there were examples of “cost avoidance” within this budget, particularly with the funding for Genesis, which roughly saves the district $90,000 for each pupil it can retain and won’t require being educated elsewhere at the district’s expense.
Out-of-district tuition, he said, including transportation, runs about $120,000 per student, but Genesis has an average cost per student of $30,000.
“That is a very, very favorable trend for us,” he said, noting five students who would have “very likely” been “outplaced” are instead enrolled there, along with three other students who have returned.
Smith talked at length about the “value” of the budget investment, citing a range of high test scores and college successes, as well as culture, creative and athletic programs in town.
“Our students perform at very high levels and they’re supported by tremendous coaches and tremendous teachers,” he said.
Smith will be repeating his budget presentation at Middlebrook next Thursday, Jan. 23, at 7 p.m.
Meanwhile, the board will begin its budget workshops next Tuesday, Jan. 21, at 1 p.m., ultimately holding a joint meeting with the Board of Finance on Feb. 6 for further discussion.
The board is scheduled to vote on the budget on Feb. 20.
“This is new information to board members tonight,” Board of Education Chair Debbie Low said. “We have not seen any documents before tonight.”
Consequently, she said, board members would withhold their comments, though she commended Smith on his presentation.
“It’s too early for questions or anything like that,” Low said, “but clearly this is well-put together.”