The following is “Notes from the Board Table,” the regular opinion column from Christine Finkelstein, chair of the Wilton Board of Education.

Does everyone remember what happened at last year’s town meeting?

Two motions were made from the floor to reduce the Board of Education budget:  One motion called for a $1 million reduction and the other for a $1.04 million reduction.

Fortunately, each motion was defeated after “show of hand” votes were taken among those present. I think it’s accurate to say though, that we dodged a bullet. The margins by which those motions were defeated were a little too close for comfort.

I would like to remind people about the “motion from the floor” provision of our town charter. This provision allows any voter to make a motion to reduce (but not to increase) the budget, by an amount of their choosing. And all that’s necessary for the motion to pass is a “yes” vote by a majority of those people who are present.

This means that a small group of citizens can have an outsized say in determining the school budget.  And, since attendance at the town meeting is typically low, opponents of the school budget recognize the power of the “motion from the floor” tactic to achieve their goal of imposing dramatic cuts to our budget.

We have every reason to believe motions to reduce our budget will be made during next Tuesday’s town meeting. That meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, May 1 at 7:30 p.m. in the Clune Center. Individuals opposed to our budget are hoping that turnout will again be low, and have been spreading the word.

I urge all residents who support our schools to attend next week’s meeting. Please plan to fend off any and all motions to reduce our budget, and immediately following the meeting, you can cast your official vote. (Voting will also take place on Saturday, May 5 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Clune Center.)

What exactly is in our budget?  Here are a few facts:

  • Our 2018-19 budget calls for a 1.62% increase in spending.
  • This figure includes a $500,000 reduction mandated by the Board of Finance.
  • Last year we asked for a ZERO percent increase.
  • Over the past four years, our spending increases have averaged 1.43%.
  • Teacher salaries are contractually set to increase by 3.06% next year.
  • Insurance costs are expected to increase by 6%.
  • And next year’s rate of inflation is projected to be 2.5%.

Based on these numbers, I don’t think our 1.62% increase would meet anyone’s reasonable definition of excessive.

Certainly, our surrounding communities seem to understand the need for school spending to keep pace with 21st century learning and contractual agreements. Here’s a look at proposed increases in some neighboring districts:

   Proposed 2018/19                  2014-18 Average

Weston:            3.1 percent                               2.30 percent

Ridgefield:       2.55 percent                             2.83 percent

New Canaan:   2.45 percent                             3.35 percent

Darien:             2.34 percent                             3.61 percent

Wilton:             1.62 percent.                            1.43 percent

At this rate, we are putting ourselves at risk of being left behind as our neighboring communities continue investing in their schools and facilities. We also run the risk of having our lean years catch up with us. By deferring maintenance, furniture replacement, textbook and library book purchases, we are simply putting off the inevitability of these expenditures. Eventually these purchases will need to be made, but will likely come at a higher cost, and possibly all at one time.

My message to our community–we are fiscally responsible. I think our numbers speak for themselves. Our spending increases have averaged 1.43% over four years, which is by far the lowest of all surrounding communities.

I think it’s important to note that the motions made last year to reduce our budget came from individuals with no direct knowledge of our school system. Instead, the motions were made purely based on these individuals’ perceptions about our schools, and from a desire to minimize tax increases. I can assure you that no one on the Board of Education wants to spend a dime more than is necessary to fund our schools.

I think everyone in Wilton understands the importance of our schools to our community. I hope everyone also understands the need to protect our schools, by attending the town meeting and opposing attempts to dramatically reduce our 2018-19 operating budget.

Please mark your calendar for next Tuesday, May 1, 7:30 p.m. at the Clune Center.

Thank you.