Superintendent proposes 1.98% school budget increase

Superintendent Kevin Smith proposed an $82,168,952 school budget for fiscal year 2019 (FY19) during the Board of Education's Jan. 18 meeting.

The proposed school budget reflects a 1.98% increase from the district's current budget.

“Understanding that our current budget is at zero — that it’s flat — and that this budget represents a very modest increase, there’s not a whole lot that’s different, generally speaking,” said Smith.

The proposed budget takes the following into account:

  • Teacher salaries are projected to increase by 3.06%.

  • Administrator salaries are projected to increase by 2.025%.

  • Custodial salaries are projected to increase by 2%.

  • Insurance costs will increase by 6%.

  • Transportation costs will increase by 2%.

  • Enrollment is projected to decrease by 1%.

Smith’s proposed FY19 budget breaks down as follows:

  • Salaries: $50,511,187 (2.92% increase from the current budget).

  • Insurance and employee benefits: $13,697,500 (0.73% decrease).

  • Other purchased services: $9,089,307 (1.90% increase).

  • Professional services: $5,607,829 (6.33% increase).

  • Supplies and materials: $2,200,791 (0.64% decrease).

  • Property services: $684,077 (24.20% decrease).

  • Equipment: $252,276 (4.73% decrease).

  • Dues: $125,985 (6.62% increase).

Salaries, staff and enrollment

Eighty-three percent of the overall budget increase is driven by contracted salary increases, said Smith, whose $50.5 million request for salaries reflects a $1,433,315 increase from the current budget.

His proposed budget includes a 2.95 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff reduction — from 570.84 FTE in 2017-18 to 567.89 FTE in 2018-19.

There are also “no enrollment-driven staff reductions” in the budget, Smith noted, since the district is expected to only lose 46 to 48 students next year.

“Wilton is experiencing a trend in enrollment decline. That trend will continue, but as was previously worried about in former years, we’re not going off a cliff, and the actual decline of student enrollment is much less dramatic year-over-year than was initially anticipated,” he said.

“This year, we had an increase in students and so that mitigated the projected enrollment decline. In fact, we had to add an addition class at Cider Mill, which we didn’t budget for, so we had to reallocate funds in order to address that class.”

Other drivers

The main driver of Smith’s proposed $334,047 increase in professional services — and the second largest driver of the overall budget increase — is the district’s investment in technology.

His proposed $100,079 decrease in insurance and benefits is driven by projected medical increases offset by proposed FTE reductions, good recent claims history, and an increased savings in other post-employment benefits (OPEB) contributions of approximately $80,000.

The proposed $169,065 increase in other purchased services is driven by a $60,000 lease obligation for a new phone system, 6% increase in liability insurance and an increase in contracted transportation offset by renegotiating contracts.

Smith’s request for supplies and materials reflects a $14,229 decrease and is driven by savings on maintenance supplies and deferment of textbook purchases.

His proposed $218,373 decrease in property services is driven by the introduction of the Zero Waste initiative and work done by Facilities Director Chris Burney and Wilton High School Plant Manager Jose Figueroa which has resulted in a multi-year capital improvement plan that includes flooring and ceiling tile replacement.

Smith’s request for equipment reflects a $12,525 decrease, driven by the deferment of some furniture purchases; and his proposed $7,826 increase in dues is driven by the purchase of Gaggle and annual subscription increases.

Containment, cuts and concern

In addition to reducing FTE staff, Smith said, the district has also done the following in order to contain costs:

  • Introduced a new health plan design;

  • Contracted IT support;

  • Redesigned its preschool program;

  • Competitively bid outplacement transportation;

  • Reallocated certified staff to address instructional priorities, such as shifting classroom staff to instructional support and intervention;

  • Shared services with the town;

  • Combined and/or eliminated positions.

Smith said the school district engages in a process where each of its the cost centers puts together a spending proposal, and the central office aggregates them all.

“The first pass at the proposal was actually a request that amounted to about a 7.5% increase,” said Smith, “so we've spent the last couple of weeks working backwards and looking again at our priorities and then making choices about what needs to come out.”

Smith said he asked Assistant Superintendent Chuck Smith, Assistant Superintendent of Special Services Andrea Leonardi and all the principals to “go back and squeeze their budgets.”

“When we gathered about a week ago to review some of these changes,” he said, “a proposal was made to reduce a social worker and partially reduce some occupational therapist at the elementary school.”

Smith said those reductions “really worry” him.

“I am worried that this budget proposal doesn’t adequately meet our needs,” he said, “so I’m looking forward to engaging with the [education] board about some of the choice-making and what our priorities are.”

Smith said “other proposed new staff” were also eliminated and the athletics budget was reduced by $59,000. Some capital maintenance items, Library Learning Commons expenditures and musical instrument replacements were also deferred.

“I think, collectively, on the administrative side, there’s quite a lot of hand-ringing, and some very, very difficult choices that were made in putting this proposal together,” said Smith.

Board of Education Chair Christine Finkelstein thanked Smith, the school principals and the entire administrative team for their work in putting together the proposed budget.

“I know it took a lot to get here,” she said.

Budget guidance

Smith’s proposed budget exceeds the Board of Finance’s FY19 budget guidance.

“As you know, our budget guidance is a 1% increase over last year, so the superintendent’s budget is higher than we were expecting to receive,” Board of Finance Chair Jeff Rutishauser wrote in a Jan. 19 email to The Bulletin.

The education board will now go through the superintendent’s budget and eventually recommend a budget to the Board of Finance.

“Maybe they will find some additional savings to close the gap with our 1% budget increase target,” said Rutishauser.

“The process is just at the starting point to understand the BOE budget and get input from the town before we decide how much educational spending to recommend to the town.”

Public presentation and workshops

Finkelstein encouraged “all members of the town” to become engaged in the budget process.

A public presentation of the superintendent’s proposed budget will take place Thursday, Jan. 25, at 7 p.m. in the Middlebrook School Auditorium.

Before then, the Board of Education will hold three workshops related to the budget in the Wilton High School Professional Library from 1 to 3:

  • The workshop on Monday, Jan. 22, will focus on Miller-Driscoll, Cider Mill and Middlebrook.

  • The workshop on Tuesday, Jan. 23, will focus on Wilton High School, high school athletics, digital learning and technology.

  • The workshop on Wednesday, Jan. 24, will focus on curriculum and instruction, the district and special education.