by Bruce Likly, Chairman, Wilton Board of Education
Many thanks to those who braved the bitter cold last Thursday night to listen to Dr. Richard’s present his proposed budget for the 2013-14 school year, and to share their thoughts about the recommended spending plan. The Board heard from several parents who gave firsthand accounts about how their children have benefited from our special education and pre-Kindergarten services. We also heard from parents who wanted additional information about the proposal to implement a full day Kindergarten program next year. We are very grateful
The budget that Dr. Richards outlined calls for a 4.39 percent increase over current spending levels. Although that might sound like a significant jump, it’s important to note that the bulk of the increase is due to circumstances over which we have no control – contractual obligations and special education costs. In fact, if you were to remove those two categories, the remaining budget increase would be a modest 1.45%.
Following are a few takeaways from Dr. Richards’ presentation:
- Salaries and benefits, which represent almost 80 percent of our entire budget, are projected to increase by 3.8 percent. This increase is entirely driven by contractual obligations, along with salaries, medical benefits, and retirement funds for our non-union personnel. This figure also includes our
special education personnel.
- Special education costs are scheduled to increase by more than 12 percent, and represent 57 percent of the total budget increase.
The majority of this increase is due to increases in outplacements,
contracted services, and transportation costs.
As Dr. Richards reported, this year we saw a spike in the number of students with needs that require out-of-district services. Because student needs tend to
fluctuate over the course of a year, and because new students requiring special
services often move into town during the school year, it is difficult to predict actual special education funding requirements.
Plus, special education is almost entirely mandated by the state legislature. Like
every district in the state, Wilton must comply with legislation and regulations from Hartford regardless of the cost, and regardless of whether or not we think the mandate is the best course for our students. Not surprisingly, most of those edicts from Hartford are unfunded, and it is up to Wilton taxpayers to pay the costs.
- The remainder of the budget would increase by 1.45 percent. This includes funding for everything from transportation to energy costs to textbooks to athletics to technology to building maintenance.
The Board of Finance has told us that our 2013-14-budget request increase should not exceed 1.75 percent. In a perfect world, we would very much like
to meet that goal. But given that our contractual and special education obligations alone would exceed 1.75 percent, we believe that target is not realistic. I was glad to have Board of Finance Chairman Warren Serenbetz and board member Jim Meinhold in attendance at last week’s hearing. I was also pleased that Dick Dubow from the Board of Selectmen was able to attend, and to hear firsthand about the drivers influencing our budget.
Next Steps. The next step in the process is for the Board of Education to continue to analyze the Superintendent’s proposed budget. We have already driven deep “into the weeds” of the document and asked for additional information and suggested possible efficiencies in several areas. We will
consider the budget at our next two meetings:
- Thursday, January 31, 5:30pm in the WHS Professional Library (continued discussion)
- Thursday, February 7, 7:00pm in the WHS Professoinal Library (final consideration, vote)
The public is welcome to attend each of these meetings.
Once the Board adopts its budget, we will present it to the Board of Finance at a work session scheduled for February 11 at 7:30pm in the professional library.
I hope this information helps you understand where we are in developing next year’s school budget, and the many factors at play as we try to arrive at a plan that funds our students’ needs, and achieves maximum efficiency of our residents’ tax dollars.
Lastly, we are excited to announce the new Wilton Public Schools Facebook
page and Twitter feed. While Edline will continue to be the official source parents should access for information regarding the schools, these two new resources are being made available to help facilitate the best possible communications with the citizens of Wilton.