Wilton schools staff raises make up majority of $2.5M budget increase

WILTON — The Board of Education is asking the town for a $2.5 million budget hike for the next school year, with just over half of that increase due to staff salary increases.

Superintendent Kevin Smith said Monday that the $1.3 million increase in staff salaries across the district in the currently proposed $87.3 million budget is “driven primarily by contracted increases” that were agreed upon during a negotiating process.

The “overwhelming majority” of the 575 staff members across the district are slated to receive contracted increases, he added.

In the district’s collective bargaining agreement, valid through 2023, staff members are granted “an additional step” and a contractual raise in pay. The scale takes into account the amount of schooling the teacher has achieved at the time of the start of the fiscal year, with the lowest on the pay scale those with a bachelors degree and the highest those having earned a PhD. Each year, members take one step up the scale and their pay is reflected by their education status.

According to the current agreement, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no additional credits at the lowest step earns $49,563 annually, while the same teacher at the district’s highest step earns $76,816 a year. The cap for a district teacher with a master’s degree and no additional credits is $104,643 at the highest step. A teacher with a PhD can earn up to $129,236 at the highest step.

There is also an incentive in the current collective bargaining agreement that teachers who attain a master’s degree while teaching during the year are given a small bonus of $300.

The upcoming school year will be the last for the current collective bargaining agreement.

In this year’s proposed budget by Smith to the BOE and town, staff salaries account for a little more than $57 million of the total budget request, or 65.4%. When adding in staff insurance and benefits, total personnel contractual obligations reach 79% of the total budget.

The superintendent credits the district’s pay model as a big factor to why Wilton has not been as affected by a teacher shortage or high staff turnover, compared to other districts over the past two years.

“While we have certainly experienced an increase in staff turnover during the pandemic, our attrition rates remain relatively low,” Smith said. “Wilton is an attractive place to work because we offer competitive salary and benefits packages. We've been very fortunate to hire exceptionally strong staff.”

He pointed to districtwide student achievement as one factor in his staff’s performance.

“Our teachers have done a phenomenal job under exceptionally challenging circumstances,” Smith said. “Even during the pandemic, when you look across the state, our district posted comparatively strong achievement scores.”

The district’s average ACT composite score hit a five-year high in 2021, and Smith said he was proud that the district has “been open and able to deliver instruction in-person has also enabled our teachers to create classroom environments that foster relationship development and promote the social and emotional wellbeing of students.”

While full-time staff numbers remain strong over the pandemic, the pool for substitute teachers available to the district, Smith said, has decreased.

“We continually post for substitute positions,” he said.