There was a celebratory feel to the Wellington Village Council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 20, as the council presented its annual Keely Spinelli grants to local public schools.
A representative from each Wellington school was in attendance to receive their grant checks, as part of a program named after former Binks Forest Elementary School Principal Keely Spinelli, who died in 2008.
Each of 11 village public schools received grant checks for $37,000. That is a total of $407,000. Wellington is unique in Palm Beach County in contributing money to directly support local schools. The program is designed to provide extra resources to support struggling students.
“I am here tonight to share my gratitude for the Village of Wellington’s longstanding commitment to our 11 schools here in Wellington,” Palm Beach County School Superintendent Michael Burke said. “Your support on all levels is greatly appreciated and is having a big impact in our schools.”
School Board Member Marcia Andrews was also in attendance to thank the village for its ongoing support.
“You are a forerunner in making it happen for all children in this village. These grants help to improve academic achievement,” Andrews said. “When I think about Keely, who I knew personally, we are all blessed to know that she loved every child in the Village of Wellington.”
She thanked Wellington’s school principals for continuing to represent Spinelli’s spirit across all of the village’s schools today.
Central Region Superintendent Valerie Zuloaga-Haines noted that the grant money makes a huge difference in local schools. “Every one of our schools has students who need supplemental support, which is provided by this grant,” she said.
Mayor Anne Gerwig thanked the schools for partnering with the community.
“Our reputation is better because of you, and our community is better because of you,” she said.
Vice Mayor Michael Napoleone said that the village is happy to partner with its local schools, both through these grants and in other ways.
“We know that this is an investment in our future,” he said, adding that strong schools also help with the village’s property values. “We are not just throwing money at a problem. You guys have taken the time to implement a plan that will raise up those who need help.”
Councilwoman Tanya Siskind thanked the principals for all their hard work.
“Tonight, it is the principals who are the superstars in the room. We are so grateful for everything that you do,” she said. “This money ripples throughout the entire community. Without really good schools, the community suffers.”
Councilman John McGovern said that Wellington views the grant program as part of a much larger partnership.
“This night means the world to us, but also this partnership, and the work that we do, is what really matters. It’s the kids who matter,” he said.
Gerwig said that she would like to see a similar program spread throughout Palm Beach County.
“Then every kid at every school in Palm Beach County would have that extra boost they need to make the entire county perform at that level,” she said.
Also at the meeting, the council held its second public hearing and final passage of the budget and tax rate for the new fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
Deputy Village Manager Tanya Quickel presented the budget overview, which she said reflects a commitment to “stable budgeting for sustainability.”
The new budget totals $137.7 million, which is $9 million more than the previous year’s budget. The increases are primarily due to various inflationary pressures.
The tax rate remains unchanged at 2.47 mills, but there is a $25 per unit increase in the Acme Improvement District assessment. There is also a 10 percent increase in water and wastewater rates, as well as an increase in solid waste collection rates.
Quickel explained that municipal taxes account for only 18 percent of a Wellington resident’s entire tax bill, and for the average property owner, Wellington taxes total approximately $85 per month.
The council thanked Quickel and her financial team for all the hard work that went into the budget process. The tax rate and the overall budget were both approved 4-0 with Councilman Michael Drahos absent.