Wilton’s latest education budget shows 4.66% increase

A reduced total for the 2014-15 education budget was reviewed at the Wilton Board of Education meeting on Thursday, Jan. 9.

The recent proposed budget represented a 4.66% increase rather than the 5.42% increase proposed on Dec. 19.

This change reflects a proposed budget total of $79,687,892.

Salary increases for existing staff would be the largest dollar and percentage increase, with $978,817, or 1.29%, being added to the current 2013-14 budget.

Special education tuition would be the second largest, with an increase of $616,739, or 0.81%.

The change is due to a 60% increase in the number of mediations and settlements in the current fiscal year.

Cider Mill Principal Jennifer Mitchell said her school is looking to convert two paraprofessional positions to two special education teacher positions.

The reason, she said, would be to create “a cohesive, house-based instructional team of classroom teachers, special education teachers, and reading specialists.”

Cider Mill would also increase part-time specialist positions to full-time positions in order to give teachers time to meet with one another and create lesson plans that address the needs of specific students.

Eliminating a fifth grade teacher position would offset the cost of increasing specialized staffing.

For the first time, Miller-Driscoll had full-day kindergarten classes this year, with seven full-time paraprofessionals working with classroom teachers to work with kindergartners.

This year has also been the first time the school has had seven reading teachers come into kindergarten classrooms for 45 to 50 minutes to co-teach intervention, said Miller-Driscoll Principal Cheryl Jensen-Gerner.

Ms. Jensen-Gerner said the school’s three newest initiatives — reading teachers, full-day kindergarten and paraprofessionals — have been “a good thing for Miller-Driscoll holistically.”

“We’re satisfied with how things are going,” she said. “I’d like to continue working with this model into next year.”

Middlebrook Principal Maria Coleman said her school is looking to add one math teacher for special education and general education students.

By creating a co-teaching model that includes content expertise, Ms. Coleman said, the additional math teacher position would address the performance gap of students who receive special education services.

“Students need modifications to the curriculum,” said Ms. Coleman. “It’s critical to keep students on track with math.”

Decreasing paraprofessional support would offset the cost of increasing certified staffing at Middlebrook.

“There’s currently no math interventionists,” said Ms. Coleman, explaining the idea would be to pull students out of tutorial — which she said is like a study hall session — on a rotating basis.

“The hope is to, over time, integrate special education students back into classrooms.”

Wilton High School Principal Robert O’Donnell said he wants to bring an AP computer science course to the high school, which currently offers 20 AP courses.

“It would be a college-level course and it would help begin the STEM initiative,” he said. “It’s a win-win. Students with a desire to pursue STEM will engage in it.”

Mr. O’Donnell said about $10,000 of the cost can be paid for with the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education grant, which the school receives every year.

The current year’s grant is $22,579, said Ken Post, director of financial planning and operations.

In addition to the computer science course, Mr. O’Donnell said, the school hopes to get three new coaches, the cost of which has been included in the projected budget.

“We cut $25,000 from last year’s budget. It’s been challenging, but we’re hoping to get through it,” said Mr. O’Donnell.

Participation fees

The elimination of participation fees was also discussed at the meeting.

The fees were implemented during the 2013-14 school year and are expected to generate $160,000 in revenue.

There is currently a $100 fee per high school sport, a one-time annual $25 fee for Cider Mill and Middlebrook students who participate in a club or extracurricular activity, and a one-time annual $50 fee for Wilton High club participants.

“The fees can be waived for free- and reduced-lunch students,” said Mr. Post, “and all requests have been granted.”

Board commissioners expressed differing views on participation fees and whether they should be eliminated from the budget.

Commissioners Chris Stoup and Laura Schwemm said they want more information about the fees before deciding. Commissioner Christine Finkelstein, on the other hand, said she had no problem with the fees.

Participation fee elimination would cost $176,500, making up 0.23% of the proposed budget.

“If we had a blank check, we’d give it. We just have to do better with what we have,” said Commissioner Glenn Hemmerle. “We still have work to do.”

Ms. Finkelstein agreed that the board has a lot of thinking to do.

“Schools are the most valued possessions in this town, and in order to maintain a high level, we need to invest,” she said.

Chairman Bruce Likly said he anticipates revisiting participation fees and additional cuts at the 7 p.m. public hearing on Jan. 23 in the Middlebrook auditorium.

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