Education board adopts budget

The Board of Education voted to adopt Superintendent Kevin Smith’s $80,569,905 proposed school budget for fiscal year 2018 (FY18) during its Feb. 28 meeting.
Although it does not reach the Board of Finance’s -1.25% budget growth guidance, the proposed budget reflects — for the first time in more than 30 years — a 0% increase over Wilton’s current school budget.
Smith said in January that the proposed budget is a reflection of the district’s effort to balance education needs and priorities with “the need to help the town manage its finances.”
As Wilton’s “largest consumer of taxpayer dollars,” he said, the district needs to be “strong partners” with the Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen in “trying to manage mill rate increases.”
At the same time, he said, “we also have committed to a pretty aggressive educational reform improvement agenda … so we need to ensure that we are meeting our priorities and maintaining a very high standard of public education here in Wilton.”

Last-minute motion

Before the adoption of the proposed budget, board member Chris Stroup motioned for a budget increase to pay for things that “would have a direct impact on the education of the kids in this community,” like a secondary special education supervisor and additional mathematics support at Middlebrook.
“I think it’d be a mistake to not spend the money,” he said.
Board member Christine Finkelstein disagreed.
“I think it [would be] a mistake to increase the budget at a time when we know that there is pressure from the town to go even lower than we have already done,” she said.
“The administration has worked incredibly hard to bring in the 0% [increase] and deliver the education the kids need. I think raising it a penny more … is going to open up a lot of scrutiny by our colleagues on other boards.”
Board of Education Chair Bruce Likly echoed Finkelstein’s sentiment.
“In light of the fact that we have to make a decision based on what we now know — not what may happen — we can reasonably assume that something will happen relative to teachers’ pensions [and] reimbursements that we have gotten through the excess cost grant and educational cost sharing,” he said.
“While I would love to see that money, I prefer to see a concerted effort … to find those funds elsewhere.”
Board member Laura Schwemm said the Board of Education is in “a painful situation.”
Although she doesn’t like the fact there has to be a 0% budget increase, Schwemm said, “we’re already coming in over with the Board of Finance.”
“I feel we need to go with the budget that’s been presented to us by the superintendent,” she said.
With that, Stroup’s motion did not pass and board members — including Stroup — voted to adopt the superintendent’s proposed budget.

Next meetings

A Board of Finance hearing on the Board of Education’s budget is scheduled for Monday, March 20, at 7:30 p.m. at Middlebrook School.
The next regular Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 9, at 7 p.m. in the Wilton High School Professional Library.