$12.5M operating budget proposed for WLC; Bargaining agreement, fund contribution not included

WILTON – The proposed Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District operating budget totals $12.5 million, and not counting the $250,000 bond payment that is Wilton’s responsibility, the budget is $46,858 less than this year.

That figure doesn’t include a new bargaining agreement with the teachers association, nor a contribution of $55,000 to the school maintenance capital reserve fund. Those are the only articles on the district warrant.

The proposed budget of $12,514,604 was presented to the public on Friday, Feb. 10. About 45 people attended the 90-minute

hearing in the high school library. The budget was presented and explained by Superintendent Bryan Lane.

The hearing was unusual in that the attendees did not receive a detailed copy of the budget. Instead, each received a copy of a PowerPoint presentation while Lane explained the details of the budget increases, ambitious new goals for the school, reasons for the new salary agreements and the need for the capital reserve fund, which is basically for roof repairs over the next several years.

The tax impact of the new budget is a decrease of 78 cents per $1,000 valuation for Lyndeborough, and an additional 67 cents for Wilton. That would mean an increase of $139 for a typical Wilton house, and a decrease of $19.29 for Lyndeborough.

“Enough to do to Dunkin’ Donuts,” Lane said.

Last year, there was a significant increase for Lyndeborough residents because of a change in the student population. The budget is divided by school population, which currently is 73 percent Wilton and 27 percent Lyndeborough. Last year, Lyndeborough’s share was 29 percent, and in 2015-16, it was 24 percent.

There currently are 575 students in the district.

“We found places to save money,” Lane said, “and to do things smarter.”

One savings area is the RISE program that keeps special needs students in the district, saving tuition and transportation costs. Those savings are estimated at $70,000 per student, or $420,000.

The budget includes the elimination of two teaching positions, a high school English teacher and a third-grade teacher. Two new positions have been created: curriculum coordinator and Response to Instruction (RTI) intervention coordinator.

The staff reduction are because of declining enrollment, and the new positions are an attempt to increase student test scores, which are in some cases lower than the state average.

The curriculum coordinator would align curriculum from grade to grade, create and provide staff development, be accountable to directives from the state Department of Education and supervise standardized testing. It would be a 200-day position.

The RTI person would focus on grades 1-5, work with teachers to determine specific causes for students not making academic progress and develop remedial programs for individual students – those not in special education programs. It would be a school-year program.

Both positions will be advertised in-house and out-of-district, Lane said, and are not “a reshuffling of staff.” He stressed that both new positions are specialized.

“The goal is to get students ready to go where they want to go,” Lane said, “whether a two- or four-year college, into the workforce or the military. Students need to be functioning at grade level by grade three or they become frustrated.”

Several parents familiar with the RTI program spoke in favor of it.

The new teachers contract makes many changes, Lane said. It is an attempt to make WLC salaries, currently among the lowest, competitive with surrounding towns, “and keep our teachers here,” he said.

The new contract changes the “steps” – the automatic increase for a year’s service – reducing them to 17, raises the starting salary, eliminates a cost-of-living annual increase and involves a cheaper health insurance program. The general salary increase is 2.4 percent.

With the salary increases offset by savings in health insurance, the cost of the change the first year is $36,891.

The tax impact of the agreement is, with the budget decrease, a reduction of $1.04 for Lyndeborough. For Wilton, the impact is an additional 7 cents.

The building capital reserve fund currently holds $241,000. A contribution of $55,000 is requested, with $60,000 in each of the next two years.

The gym roof was repaired last summer, but officials said there are leaks in the hall and guidance department that are being dealt with. The oldest part of the school dates to 1971.