With a four-to-one vote, the Board of Finance decided to set Board of Education\u2019s operating budget guidance at approximately 1.1% \u2014 a decrease from the usual 1.75% annual growth target applied to both the Board of Education and Board of Selectmen \u2014 during its Sept. 15 meeting.The decision stems from a concept based on student enrollment and per-pupil expenditure proposed by finance board member Jeff Rutishauser,\u00a0who, along with board member Richard Creeth, has been working with the Board of Education\u2019s Business Operations Committee to develop a new approach to the education budget\u2019s annual growth target.\u201cIt\u2019s a little different than what we\u2019ve done in the past,\u201d Rutishauser said during the board\u2019s July 21 meeting.\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.According to Rutishauser\u2019s proposal, the main objective of the 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.\u201dDuring the board\u2019s July meeting, Rutishauser said 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.\u201dThere 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 a 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.\u201dRutishauser 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 Board of Selectmen As for the Board of Selectmen\u2019s growth target, finance Board of Finance Chair Warren Serenbetz proposed a 0.75% growth target increase, while board member Al Alper proposed a 0.5% increase. Finance board member Lynne Vanderslice said the Board of Selectmen\u2019s spending is \u201cjust slightly more than what the 2014 budget was.\u201d \u201cWe took that \u201914 budget and we built it up for [FY]15 and built it up again for [FY]16,\u201d she said, \u201cso I don\u2019t think we can say the usual \u2018let\u2019s just do the standard percentage over,\u2019 because it\u2019s too high.\u201d Vanderslice noted that at its last meeting, the finance board talked about no longer \u201cbuilding up the surpluses.\u201d A 0.5% increase over the FY16 operating budget would give the selectmen $160,000 more for FY17, Vanderslice explained, \u201cwhich is still $800,000 [more] than 2015.\u201d Vanderslice said the only reason she wouldn\u2019t propose 0% is because \u201cif you look at the capital budget that they submitted for 2017, it\u2019s $2.5 million, which is $1 million higher than it normally is.\u201d \u201cOne thing that\u2019s in there is a half-million dollars for the [turf] fields that we should have been funding all along,\u201d said Vanderslice. \u201cThat\u2019s the only caution I have.\u201d Creeth requested that the board wait until its Oct. 20 meeting to vote on the selectmen\u2019s growth target, which the board agreed to do.