Superintendent presents budget to Finance Committee | News

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WILMINGTON — The Wilmington Finance Com­mittee received the school department budget for fiscal year 2025 during their meeting on Thursday, Feb. 29. School Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand and As­sistant Superintendent of Administration and Fi­nance Paul Ruggiero provided information to the committee, highlighting the overall budget in­crease from this year to next year by 3.75 percent.

Part of this required some shifting in the budget after meeting with the temporary town manager. Brand explained that this budget would both meet the temporary town manager’s request and the school district’s operational needs for the school year ahead. While they wanted the budget to be as conservative as possible, he also said there were great challenges in creating this budget such as out of district special education tuition increases while state reimbursement re­mained stagnant.

A few other contributing factors he mentioned were renegotiating the transportation contract, grant funds running out on key positions, and student needs continuing to in­crease.

Brand described how student needs necessitated additional special education staff, though enrollment declined this year, and general education staff had been reduced.

Finance Committee Vice Chair Theresa Manganelli asked about the savings made by the school de­partment per the request of the temporary town ma­nager to limit their in­crease to 3.75 percent.

Ruggiero answered that they estimated new sala­ries in place of staff who retired or resigned since the budget process began, and they used reimbursement from the previous year’s circuit breaker funds to offset this budget. He explained that by law they can carry the reimbursement over but have to spend it the following fiscal year.

Brand named other cost-drivers including inflation in the cost of operating services, programs, and schools; the impacts of COVID-19 learning loss; expanding student needs; and expectations that public schools provide social services in the community.

Manganelli asked about improvement from COVID-19 learning loss. Assistant Superintendent Christine Elliott answered that they are still identifying the extent of effects in this re­gard.

Brand also detailed that the district follows a state-wide trend of students in­creasingly falling under a “high needs” definition. He mentioned the legal requirement to ensure ap­propriate levels of services for English Language Learners, which has grown in town to 55 students. He listed about 40 different languages spoken by families in Wil­ming­ton.

Joseph Lavino wondered if there may be an overlap in student needs. Brand agreed that it is possible, but in some cases it may lead to grant funding or identifying a legal obligation. He also added that the goal for English Lan­guage Learners is their skill level increases be­yond the need for services.

Brand then provided en­rollment over the past several years, though he said they project relatively stable enrollment next year. He said the drop for this upcoming fiscal year didn’t lead to any decrease in the number of teachers — as there was a loss of just 23 students across 12 grades. He also said that with the new school, growing retention rate between 8th and 9th grade, and new housing projects in town, enrollment could build.

The 8th to 9th grade re­tention rate this past year was 71 percent, he pointed out, and they also saw 30 students return to the high school this year. He later showed the town’s enrollment compared to surrounding communities.

The committee asked about the number of students returning in the 9th grade, which Brand said he would have to check.

A concern brought up by Manganelli was the information provided to 8th grade students as they decide where to go to high school so they can make the best decision. Brand replied there was tremendous effort done by high school principal Ryan Gendron to develop connections with 8th grade students and families and to understand why students are returning to the high school.

Andrew Lavigne asked about any insights gained by polling 8th graders on their school of choice, and Brand provided that they don’t get 100 percent re­sponse but they continue to run these surveys.

Lavino asked about the goal retention rate from 8th to 9th grade for the district. Brand said that their goal is to allow families to make the right choice, and that students pursue other educational experiences for the right reasons. He also suggested 100 percent retention was unlikely.

Ruggiero pointed out that they do retain most students who go to the high school from 9th through 12th grades and sometimes see a retention rate over 100 percent.

Brand went on to discuss the proposed salary and non-salary expense changes from this current year to fiscal year 2025 along with personnel changes. He stated this budget would retain highly-qualified staff, educate as many students in-district as possible, increase English learner support, ensure access to athletics, extracurriculars, and transportation without us­er fees, and provide wrap-around services to students and families.

The committee asked about budget expenses re­lated to the school start times adjustment, though the only changes Ruggie­ro identified were adding a bus and extending tea­cher workdays.

Brad Jackson asked about the quality of the literacy curriculum, and in response Elliott des­cribed the pilot program for a new curriculum funded by a grant in the amount of $386,000.

Jackson also highlighted the inefficiency of op­erating eight schools from a financial and relational perspective which also limits enrollment.

David Tamang wonder­ed about how the expansion of special education programs could impact the personnel budget. Brand answered that they do their best to adjust staf­fing with enrollment decline where possible, but they need space in the schools to operate these program.

Marianne Gallezzo no­ted the small class sizes at the high school, which Brand said would be in­creased with the upcoming schedule changes at the school allowing students to take more classes.

The committee invited Brand to present an up­date about the new Wild­wood MSBA project, and he said he would follow up.

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