Board of Finance members Jeff Rutishauser and Richard Creeth have been working with the Board of Education\u2019s Business Operations Committee to develop a new approach to the education budget\u2019s annual growth target.During the finance board\u2019s July 21 meeting, Rutishauser presented a proposal outlining why the finance board should use student enrollment and per-pupil expenditure to determine the education budget target.\u201cIt\u2019s a little different than what we\u2019ve done in the past,\u201d said Rutishauser. \u201cThe idea is to shift the basis upon which we make the budget [target] to the number of students, per-pupil growth expenditure and the combination of the two.\u201dIn past years, the finance board has taken the same 1.75% annual growth target and applied it to both the Board of Selectmen budget and Board of Education budget.When the 1.75% was first established, according to the proposal, the education board had concerns that it was \u201ctoo tight.\u201d However, Rutishauser pointed out, the education board has \u201cbrought in budgets below 1.75% annual growth for three of the past seven years, demonstrating that it can be done.\u201dThe main objective of the new approach is to inform the finance board of \u201cthe future budget targets for the BOE, allowing it to plan accordingly in the face of what appears to be a significant and sustained decline in Wilton Public Schools enrollment.\u201dAt the Board of Education\u2019s July 23 meeting, Chairman Bruce Likly said he wanted the public to know the finance and education boards are \u201cworking collaboratively\u201d on the new approach.\u201cIt\u2019s a work in progress and I\u2019m excited about it,\u201d he said. \u201cI don\u2019t know if it\u2019s perfect yet, but we\u2019ll see more as it comes along.\u201d Enrollment Rutishauser said that student enrollment forecasts \u2014 prepared by certified accountant and actuary Ellen Essman, consulting firm Milone & MacBroom and Dr. Peter Prowda \u2014 all show \u201csignificant near-term decline in enrollment.\u201d There were 2,603 students enrolled in the school system in 1990, said Rutishauser, and this number increased to 4,334 by 2009. However, a gradual decline started after 2009. In fiscal year 2015, Wilton schools had 4,182 students \u2014\u00a0a 3.6% reduction from the 2009 peak. \u201cThe trend towards declining enrollment is expected to continue in the next eight years \u2014 declining even faster than the previous seven years,\u201d said Rutishauser. \u201cWe are looking at a systematically large decline in the number of students. Each year, it doesn\u2019t look like that much, but when you add them all up, it\u2019s \u2014 by their forecasts \u2014 17-28% fewer students just seven years out \u2014 with the trend line still going down.\u201d Because of this, Rutishauser said he thinks the finance board\u2019s budget methodology should be \u201ctracking towards an increase in per-pupil expenditures \u2014 so that the resources are there per student, plus inflation \u2014 and also track the enrollment to help tie down the overall numbers of the budget.\u201d Rutishauser acknowledged that it would take \u201csome effort to bring the budget down at the same rate as the number of students.\u201d \u201cOne of the issues that we\u2019re dealing with is long-range planning,\u201d he said, \u201cand how to adjust the budget according to projection of enrollment that is basically getting smaller over the next several years.\u201d Feedback Finance board member Al Alper said he liked the proposed approach. \u201cI like that this forces the Board of Ed \u2014 which has not traditionally done this \u2014 to think longer term,\u201d he said, adding that a basis on per-pupil expenditure would also help parents see how much of the budget is spent on their children. \u201cIt personalizes it for the public.\u201d The finance board voted to set the guidance for the Board of Education budget at \u201cthe number of students times the percentage increase in per-pupil expenditure.\u201d Rutishauser proposed a 2.2% annual growth target for the education budget, but the board decided to not vote on either the education budget target or the selectmen budget target. The board will instead determine the target percentages at a later meeting.