WILTON \u2014 Superintendent Kevin Smith has proposed a $2.5 million budget hike for the next school year, a bulk of which would go toward staff salaries, new school equipment and new district contracts. The district\u2019s preliminary budget for the 2022-23 school year \u2014 currently proposed to total $87.3 million \u2014 asks that officials sign off on the 2.99% overall increase after several years of either remaining static or increasingly very modestly. Smith presented the proposal to Board of Education members last week, noting that the increase in the bottom line request is a result of numerous factors. Over the past seven years, Wilton has maintained a low budget increase average of 1.13%. Four of those years saw increases at less than 1%and two of those four years saw no increase at all. \u201cWe\u2019ve worked diligently to improve our programming, to enhance our services and, I think, deliver budgets that reflect the desire to protect taxpayers from large increases,\u201d Smith said. Wilton currently has the lowest percentage increase in its preliminary budget among some of its neighboring towns\u2019 district, including New Canaan at 8.6%, Ridgefield at just under 5%, Darien at just below 4%, Westport at 3.78% and Weston with 3.48%. \u201cThe largest portion of the budget is dedicated to our personnel and that\u2019s expressed in the form of salaries and employee insurance and benefits,\u201d Smith explained to the board. 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. While insurance and benefits increased by $321,684 in this year\u2019s budget request from the previous year, staff salaries increased by over $1.3 million, or a 2.4%. The next largest share of the budget is the district\u2019s contractual obligations with third-party entities, at roughly 10.3%. That total rose by only $6,821 since last year. BOE member Mandi Schmauch inquired if the district acquired new third-party contracts since the last budget and if that was the cause of the slight jump. Smith said that, while the district will undergo a new project to digitize many of its documents which resulted in a new contract, there are also clauses in existing contracts that consitute slight pay increases year-over-year. Smith also spent time reviewing the district\u2019s five-year capital operating budget, which will see to the many repairs and upgrades at both Wilton High School and Middlebrook Middle School. After \u201cdeferring the projects for a couple years,\u201d the superintendent said the district is looking to start by incorporating the $610,000 cost of the first phase of the Middlebrook project into the 2022-23 request, as well as the first phase of the high school project, estimated at $550,000. First, Smith said, the district must gain the approval of the town\u2019s Board of Selectmen, with whom he has met this month, and the Board of Finance. The proposed budget total for each school in the district also has shifted, Smith showed, as factors such as student enrollment continue to change. Wilton High School is currently slated to undergo the most stark budgetary change, moving from roughly $19.2 million to just over $19.8 million. While high school enrollment is expected to decline over the next decade, per an independent study done by Mike Zuba, director of planning at Milone & MacBroom, next year\u2019s enrollment is expected to drop by only a handful, meaning that class size won\u2019t change. Middlebrook Middle School is expected to lose a dozen students, meaning that its class sizes also will remain fairly similar to the current standard. Smith explained that the elementary schools are expected the see the most change in enrollment, with Miller-Driscoll expected to gain over 20 students and Cider-Mill to lose 17. With the smaller overall student bodies comparative to middle school and high school, both schools will see class sizes shift. Board members will meet for an upcoming series of workshops where district officials will work together to review the budget request line by line. \u201cAs a board, we have about a month to study this, make any revisions that we might feel are appropriate before the Board of Education votes on a final version to send forward to the Board of Finance,\u201d BOE Chairperson Deb Low said. A final vote by BOE members is scheduled for Feb. 17.