Boards of Education and Finance review budget

The Board of Finance and the Board of Education had a joint meeting at Wilton High School on Feb. 14. — Lynandro Simmons photo
The Board of Finance and the Board of Education had a joint meeting at Wilton High School on Feb. 14. — Lynandro Simmons photo

The Board of Education and Board of Finance held their joint meeting to review the superintendent’s proposed budget Thursday night, Feb. 14.
The proposed budget from the Board of Education (BOE) comes in with a 1.35 percent increase from the district’s current budget.
“As usual there are major financial issues facing the town of Wilton including the decline of the grand list and the potential mil rate rise to offset that,” Board of Finance Chairman Jeffrey Rutishauser said. “We thank the BOE for submitting the ’20 budget below our guidelines.”
Board of Finance member John Kalamarides said he was pleased with the 1.3 percent increase as it was underneath the 1.6 percent budget guidance recommended by the Board of Finance.
One of the items reviewed were salaries, which would see an increase in this year’s budget despite declining enrollments.. Currently there is a 3.8 percent, or $52,459,659, increase over the current budget expected. Superintendent Kevin Smith said the increases couldn’t be avoided in the budget.
“The majority of that increase is driven contractually,” Smith said.
Nearly 63 percent of the overall budget increase is driven by contracted salary increases as well as new full-time equivalent (FTE) staffing proposals.
Smith said one of the substantial changes made in the district was to outsource the backend IT. Over the course of several years the district has picked up around $1 million in savings due to this, he said.
One of the major discussions on the night was the proposed alternative school program. Superintendent for Special Services Andrea Leonardi said the program is a cost avoidance strategy.
“Maintaining students in district and providing the services here rather than sending them to private schools at public expense and transportation costs is really a cost avoidance strategy,” she said.
Leonardi said she anticipates that students who are currently struggling won’t need to be moved out of the school system with the new program.
“We’ll have an opportunity here for them that we don’t currently have,” she added.
At present, 30 students are outplaced, but not all of them would fit the profile for the new program, she said.
“Fully realized, this program would only cost slightly above the per-pupil expenditure of the typical student,” Leonardi said. The per-pupil expenditure is about $20,000. The per-pupil expenditure for the alternative school program would be about $28,000, according to Board of Education chair Christine Finkelstein’s Notes from the Board table column, published Feb. 14.
Most importantly this could save families and students from a series of crisis years, Leonardi added. The model for the program is a school of choice.
“We want students to buy into the program,” Leonardi said.
Alternative schools have also been started in other Fairfield County schools. Darien’s alternative school, Fitch Academy, recently completed year two of its program. New Canaan also has started an alternative school program.
“They’re both already realizing some cost savings,” Leonardi said. “They weren’t prepared to give me hard numbers, but they’re estimating by year’s end they will have saved close to $200,000.”
She added she is optimistic and confident they will have teachers in district excited to help build this program.
“This is an opportunity to really build a program from the ground floor up,” Leonardi said.
The Board of Education will vote on the budget at its meeting on Feb. 21.