Wilton school budget increase is less than neighboring towns

The decision to cut the public schools’ budget request by $1.1 million comes after Wilton’s Board of Education proposed a budget with a lower increase than other Fairfield County towns.
On Feb. 20, the Board of Education unanimously voted to adopt Superintendent Kevin Smith’s $82,983,607 proposed budget. It reflected a $1,107,044 or 1.35-percent increase from the district’s current budget. It also fell below the 1.6-percent budget guidance recommended by the Board of Finance in October.
Smith said it was important to maintain a lean budget while also maintaining a level of excellence for students’ needs. Wilton is facing external financial pressures as well as internal financial pressure with the announcement of the grand list’s decline, he added.
“I feel a very strong obligation to manage costs and deliver a high-quality product,” Smith said.
Despite this, the finance board voted 4 to 2 at its meeting on April 2 to keep the schools at a flat budget. Board members said they came to this decision after considering possible financial impacts from Hartford in addition to the decline of the town’s grand list.
However, the Wilton school board had proposed a smaller year-to-year increase in comparison to other Fairfield County towns like New Canaan and Darien.
New Canaan’s proposed budget of $91,434,688 reflects a 1.86-percent increase from its current budget. Darien’s Board of Education proposed budget of $100,687,103 came in at a 2.61-percent increase. Ridgefield’s school budget proposal is $98,193,760, a 3.36-percent increase.
Ridgefield, Darien and New Canaan are grouped with Wilton in a District Reference Group (DRG), based on the characteristics of schools, their performance and the towns’ financial profile.
Wilton school board chair Christine Finkelstein said her board’s proposed budget fully funded all educational programs and initiatives despite just a 1.35-percent increase.
“Our budget takes advantage of a favorable medical claims history and strong pension, along with a slight 35-student decline in enrollment to help mitigate cost increases related to contractual obligations and fixed costs,” she said.
The budget also looked to continue to achieve savings from cost efficiencies with the Board of Selectmen through shared services and personnel, Finkelstein said.
Wilton schools’ budget also included a few new initiatives, like the alternative school program. Finkelstein said the program was a win-win.
“Our students will receive the education and services they need right here in Wilton while our district avoids the high cost of potentially having to outsource these students to high-priced private schools,” she said.
However, with the cut to the budget request the school board will now have to decide on line-item cuts. The board will discuss the budget at its meeting on Thursday, April 11, and final action is tentatively scheduled for April 25.