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Letter: Notes From The Wilton Board Of Education Table

WILTON, Conn. -- The following is a letter from the Wilton Board of Education, courtesy of Chairman Bruce Likly: 

Many thanks to those who braved the “polar vortex” to attend last Thursday night’s budget presentation at Middlebrook. Dr. Richards offered a detailed overview of the administration’s proposed 2014-15 operating budget, which calls for a 4.82 percent increase in spending.

A 4.82 percent increase is certainly higher than the 1.75 percent target suggested by the Board of Finance. I suspect the Board of Education will vote at the Feb. 6 board meeting to adopt a budget that falls somewhere between the two. As we continue our deliberations, here are some key points to keep in mind:

Very little of the budget is actually open to negotiation. Contractual obligations, special education mandates, and fixed cost expenditures account for the bulk of the budget. Dr. Richards estimates that less than 5 percent of the overall budget falls into the “non-mandatory/non-contractual” category.

Salaries are our largest budget expenditure, and those are set to increase by 2.1 percent. Health benefits are expected to increase by 4.4 percent, but we believe the implementation of a high deductible plan has helped keep a handle on rising health care costs – with an estimated savings of approximately $600,000 in the first year alone.

The budget includes $250,000 to fund two new security-related positions. The new positions include an additional school resource officer and hiring of a “threat assessment” coordinator.

The special education budget is expected to increase by 9.38 percent next year. Many factors affect this but most notably, a 60 percent increase in the number of mediations and settlements has caused a spike in outplacement tuition. 

The budget does not include participation fees. The 2013-14 budget did include $175,000 in participation fee revenue, but the Board voted at the outset of the process to not include the fees in the 2014-15 budget proposal. I suspect participation fees will be a part of the discussion as the conversation continues.

As at least one parent pointed out during last week’s hearing that the proposed budget is really a “status quo” document. While there may be some truth to that, it’s important to note the budget does protect several programs put in place in recent years, and makes no cuts to staffing, technology, or curriculum components. Furthermore it provides resources to help us continue with the curriculum initiatives we have been working on for the past several years.

A budget workshop is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 29, at 5 p.m. in the WHS professional library. A final vote will be taken at our Feb. 6 regular meeting. The public is welcome to attend.

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