Wilton schools budget cut by $1.1 million

After deliberation, the Board of Finance has cut the Board of Education’s budget request for 2019-2020 by $1.1 million.
The Board of Finance voted 4 to 2 to keep the Board of Education at a flat budget at its meeting Tuesday night, April 2. The board was split along party lines on the decision to make cuts in the budget. Democrats Cecilia Maher and John Kalamarides both voted against the proposal.
The cut comes as talks of potential drawbacks from Hartford could affect Wilton. In addition, the drop of the town’s grand list has caused elected officials to brace for any additional impacts. The Board of Finance is only authorized to make a cut to the top-line budget amount. Line item cuts from that budget reduction are in the purview of the Board of Education.
Board of Finance member Peter Balderston said the town has been effective in handling lost revenues, but was concerned this year for the town.
“There’s been an onslaught of ill-advised revenue measures aimed at Fairfield County towns,” Balderston said. “The magnitude of which I think will dwarf what we’ve seen in the last few years.”
Balderston said by cutting both the school and town budgets, the revaluation’s impact will be spread across all three parts of town — the Board of Education, the Board of Selectmen and taxpayers.
He added even with a zero-percent increase in the schools budget there would still be a per-pupil increase because of falling enrollment.
“That’s an area I think we should stay focused on,” he said. “I think we need to internalize a culture of managing change.”
Maher lauded school officials for coming under the Board of Finance’s recommendations. The Board of Education’s budget has been its fifth lean budget in a row.
“There was a clear message from people about schools in our town,” she said. “I think we need to stay the course for what the recommendations are.”
Maher said she suggests they do not lead with fear, but lead with the informed decision making she’s seen to date.
Kalamarides also commended the Board of Education for coming below the budget guidance. However, he was unhappy with cutting the schools’ budget.
“You’ve got the crown jewel of Wilton, the reason people move here — and we’re going to cut that budget? We know the Board of Education has worked so hard, the teachers are dedicated and we have one of the best schools in the country,” Kalamarides said.
Board of Finance Chairman Jeff Rutishauser said focusing on taxpayers was important.
“There is an event that will hit the taxpayer with 100-percent certainty: the impact of the revaluation of everyone’s taxes,” he said. “This year it’s critical to focus on the burden of the Wilton taxpayer.”
The Board of Finance will meet again today, April 3, at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall Annex Room B to formalize numbers.