School board revises FY19 budget
Following a $500,000 cut by the Board of Finance, the Board of Education approved a revised school budget for fiscal year 2019 (FY19) during its April 26 meeting.
Last month, the Board of Finance cut the Board of Education’s $82,376,563 budget by $500,000. Board of Education Chair Christine Finkelstein said she’s “grateful” it wasn’t $650,000 as originally proposed at the finance board's April 3 mill rate meeting.
While looking in “every corner” of the budget to find reductions that would bring it down to $81,876,563, Superintendent Kevin Smith said, he and administrators’ priorities were to:
- Protect the health and safety of students;
- Match resources with core beliefs, vision and strategic objectives
- Attempt to minimize impact on students and staff members;
- Prioritize areas to maintain investments;
- Continue to find efficiencies wherever possible;
- Comply with state and federal mandates;
- Ensure mandated curriculum;
- Ensure that any proposed programming reductions or eliminations are based on analysis tied to student outcomes and are informed by community values;
- Consider opportunities to increase revenue;
- Protect the operating capital.
“The $500,000 will come from a range of different lines,” said Smith, “beginning with a staffing reduction of 2.0 [full-time equivalent staff].”
This includes the deferral of the English language learner (ELL) teacher the board had decided to add back to the budget in February . The position would have cost the district $61,000.
“While this is an area of concern, we think that we can manage with our current levels of staffing. We may be able to augment that with some additional contracted services,” said Smith.
One computer technician position has also been eliminated to save $55,000.
“There’s consensus that we can do this and continue to manage the high level of support that we’re providing,” said Smith, noting that the district is transitioning away from a building-based support model to a centralized one.
Smith said the schools have been working with the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT) and district technology director Erik Haakonsen to “shift this model anyway.”
After an analysis of support requests revealed that support needs in the district peak in the fall and then wane, the district now plans to hire temporary help to assist at peak times.
According to smith, Haakonsen believes a model with three technicians and supplemental support staff at peak times will “sufficiently address the district’s needs.”
Smith said the district’s increased use of mobile devices instead of desktop computers is also impacting the need for services. Mobile devices are managed differently, he said, which means “the needs that are in the buildings are actually different.”
Overall, Smith said, he feels “comfortable” with this reduction.
To save $50,000, Smith said, the district is “paring back some professional learning plans” — some of which will come out of Assistant Superintendent of Special Services Andrea Leonardi’s budget.
As a result, he said, Leonadri has not only been re-prioritizing, but has “gone back to look at the IDEA [Individual with Disabilities Education Act] grant and thinks that she can use some of the funds that are there to make sure we get our most critical professional learning needs met.”
Education board member Deborah Low asked Leonardi if the reduction will impact her “desire to kind of change and go to some new models and some new strategies” or if it’s something she can “work around.”
Leonardi said the special services department will be able to continue addressing “the issues that we want to address.”
“We’re going to address working with students with challenging behaviors in the social and emotional realm, we’ll be continuing to address high-quality reading instruction for children with dyslexia, and we’ll continue to work with our students across the pre-K through the 21 continuum in addressing the unique needs of students with more complex disabilities,” she said. “Those things will continue, but it will be a challenge.”
Leonardi said there’s “some real work to do as a community” to “look at our continuum of services.” The out-of-district tuition line is the most vulnerable, she said.
Another $50,000 came out of the contracted services line item. One of the ways the district was able to achieve this reduction was by deferring its planned professional learning and school climate support with Bill Preble, founder and director of The Center for School Climate and Learning.
The FY19 budget’s electricity usage line item was also reduced by $50,000 to reflect savings and cost estimates revised by facilities director Chris Burney.
Thanks to the solar panels on two of the public schools, Smith said, “we were able to revise the expenditure around electricity usage.”
Medical benefits and workers comp
Thanks to a reduction in personnel as well as continued good claims history, the district was able to revise down its medical benefits cost estimate by $100,000.
Chief Financial Officer Anne Kelly-Lenz said she is “very comfortable” with this reduction, noting that the district’s medical benefit allocation rate has been “getting better” each month.
“Between some staffing changes and our claims rating,” she said, the district’s rates have been “really, really good.”
The same goes for workers compensation, which the district is able to reduce by $30,000 thanks to good recent claims history.
Legal fees and SPED salary
The $500,000 budget reduction also includes:
- $20,000 reduction to the district’s special education legal fees account;
- $20,000 reduction to the district’s non-special education legal fees account;
- $14,000 special education salary line item reduction, as a result of correction to part of a salary attributed to the IDEA grant.
The new FY19 school budget also includes $50,000 in anticipated preschool revenue, reflecting an increase in tuition estimates due to the opening of an additional class and current waiting list.
Annual Town Meeting
The Board of Education’s $81,876,56 budget will go to vote at the Annual Town Meeting on May 1. The meeting will take place at the Wilton High School Clune Center beginning at 7:30 p.m., with an adjourned vote on Saturday, May 5.