Bruce Likly: Board is proud of its budget

Now it’s time to vote. After months of deliberation, the Board of Education (BOE) finalized an operating budget for the 2014-15 school year that we believe supports our district priorities and ensures adequate funding for all key curriculum needs.  Voting began at the Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday, and residents may participate in “continued voting,” which will take place on Saturday, May 10th from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the Zellner Gallery, located in the Clune Center at Wilton High School.

As passed by the BOE at a May 1st special meeting, the 2014-15 budget calls for $78,401,125 in spending, which represents a 2.97% increase over current spending levels. That budget increase breaks down as follows:

  • Special Education: 8.77% increase.
  • Security: 106.43% increase.
  • Regular Education: 1.11% increase.

The budget represents a compromise between the resources the administration and BOE would have preferred, and what our colleagues on the Board of Finance determined was fiscally manageable. You may recall the BOF instructed us to cut $750,000 in spending from our initial budget. This proved difficult to do, since the amount of our budget that is not “off limits” due to either contractual obligations or state/federal mandates, is less than 2% of total spending.

I am proud of the budget we ultimately adopted, and believe it will move the Wilton Schools forward in many ways. Among the budget’s highlights:

  • Adequate staffing to maintain class sizes that, with some exceptions, will fall within BOE guidelines.
  • Additional math teacher at Middlebrook to assist students in transitioning to the rigorous “Math in Focus”  curriculum.
  • Additional staffing at Wilton High School to help address class sizes that exceed BOE recommended guidelines.
  • Addition of Advanced Placement web programming course at the high school.
  • Adoption of Wilton Security Task Force recommendations for added staffing:

    ◦ Additional school resource officer (total of two).

    ◦ Threat assessment coordinator (clinical forensic psychologist who will monitor our school communities for “at risk” individuals, and who will oversee “threat assessment teams” within the individual schools.

  • Funding for facility improvements including refurbishment of the Middlebrook gym floors.
  • Continued investment in technology to ensure adequate resources to accommodate SBAC online testing requirements.
  • Restructuring of the Cider Mill “neighborhood” model so that each of the four teams will include dedicated special education teachers and reading specialists.
  • Continued investment in our teachers through professional development and training opportunities.

As I mentioned, this budget is a compromise, and incorporates $750,000 in reductions as mandated by the Board of Finance. Among the areas where spending was reduced:

  • Textbooks and supplies.
  • Alternative night school staffing.
  • Reduction in requested headcount additions at the high school. (Our original request was to add four new teachers. That request was scaled back to 3.6 FTEs  or “full-time equivalents.”).
  • Athletic budget supplies and equipment, along with elimination of two coaching positions.
  • Elimination of bus run on WHS testing days.
  • Elimination of ChromeBook cart purchase for Middlebrook.
  • Anticipated savings from WHS conversion to natural gas.
  • Delay of several planned facility work projects.

As you may be aware, Wilton typically has an abysmally low voter turnout for the May budget vote. Last year only 806 residents voted, and 291 voted “no.” Those 806 residents represented just 6.9% of eligible voters.

I realize it’s a busy time of year, but please make the time to stop by the Clune Center Saturday to cast your vote, if you have not done so on Tuesday. Please don’t assume your vote or your opinion doesn’t matter.