Wilton superintendent seeks almost $1 million for more school staffing
WILTON — Tabling a portion of the initial request for more staff funding, the Board of Education unanimously approved a $400,000 supplemental allocation for seven new custodians on Thursday night.
Superintendent of Schools Kevin Smith asked for $902,151 overall for close to 20 full-time equivalent positions related to reopening needs. Along with the custodians, these included:
$132,000 for a new kindergarten teacher.
$132,000 for a full-time world language position.
$81,000 for a half-time physical education teacher at Middlebrook.
$150,000 for eight additional building substitutes.
$8,000 for two cafeteria aides.
Board member Jen Lalor redirected a vote to approve the full slate of new positions, citing a cost she worried the town couldn’t afford.
“That means we’re going back to the town and asking for almost a million dollars that we haven’t put aside,” she said.
“I’m not trying to be difficult, I hope you guys understand that … It’s just the number that’s concerning,” she said.
“I’d rather wait until we get more information on the numbers,” Lalor said — in particular how many students will be in the buildings when schools reopen.
Chief Financial Officer Ann Kelly-Lenz indicated there is a good chance that 75 percent of the money spent would be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) because they were previously unbudgeted COVID-related additional costs.
“To date, they have stated that what we submit as unbudgeted is what they’re looking at,” she said, noting that in two to three weeks she expected a firm number from the agency on what the most current reimbursement rate is.
She said there was also a possibility that the remaining amount could see reimbursement from other federal and state funds.
“To me it sounds like we’re going to be reimbursed something … I don’t think the town is going to be on the hook for the whole $900,000,” said board member Gretchen Jeanes.
“I think we need to trust Kevin and his staff,” Vice Chair Glenn Hemmerle said. “Kevin has always demonstrated a great deal of fiscal responsibility and restraint.”
“If he says it has to happen, this is what he needs to do the job,” he said.
Chair Deborah Low noted that they had known for some time there would be additional staffing needs, though she admitted she was a little bit “stunned” by the figure.
“In considering this list in action tonight, I think the addition of the temporary custodians is essential,” Smith said, in both the full-time in-person model and the hybrid model for cleaning and sanitizing purposes.
“I think we have to plan for students being back in the building in some capacity,” he said.
Kelly-Lenz said that while the $400,000 budget for seven custodians is for the entire year, the initial temporary contract is only for 120 days, and they would only be paid for the hours they work.
“At any time we could reduce the number, or eliminate all seven if we didn’t need them,” she said.
“It’s not the same as offering a full-year contract, as we do with teachers,” she said, though if they’re kept employed through the four-month period by contract they would become full-time employees.
Kelly-Lenz also said she didn’t know what kind of executive order could come down from the state in the event there’s a resurgence in virus necessitating repeated closures, and whether that might demand continued payment even if the buildings are again closed.
Smith said he would provide more details on the other positions at the board’s next meeting on Aug. 13.