LETTER: Bd. of Eduction, Not Finance, Decides What to Cut or Keep in Budget

To the Editor:

It has been disheartening to see and hear all the misinformation being spread surrounding the Board of Education’s budget. This misinformation has circulated in emails from Wilton school PTAs, on town social media groups, and by word of mouth. As a former chairman of Wilton’s Board of Finance and longtime town resident, I would like to explain the basic facts and help Wilton residents understand the situation.

The change to the Board of Education’s budget as discussed last week by the Board of Finance would still provide a year-over-year increase of 2.2% in total and of more than 3% on a per-student basis. The Board of Finance, acting on the feedback they received from emails, a survey, and conversations with residents, would be requesting only a slight reduction in the increase that the Board of Education asked for — a $458,000 reduction out of a roughly $87 million budget that was originally proposed by the Board of Education (which would get us to the 2.2% total budget increase). To be clear, the proposed budget would still increase by approximately $2 million.

The Board of Finance has absolutely no authority to influence specific line items in the Board of Education’s budget. It is the Board of Education, with guidance from the superintendent, that decides where to spend and where not to. In its efforts to respond to the Board of Finance’s request to reduce the total budget by $458,000, the Board of Education could easily choose to reduce its budgeted spending on line items such as climate coordinators (roughly $750,000), teachers’ coaches (roughly $1.4 million), or a plethora of others rather than eliminating the proposed hire of a new math specialist.  These choices have as a backdrop a 6.4% decline in student enrollment from the 2018-2019 school year to the 2021-2022 school year, with a 15.5% increase in school and district administrative expenses during the same period.

Because meeting special education needs is a federal mandate that our schools must follow, spending tied to students with IEPs will not be reduced, nor has anyone advocated for it to be reduced. Any indication otherwise is inaccurate.

Wilton’s mill (property tax) rate under the new budget as discussed by the Board of Finance would still be one of the highest rates among comparable towns (see below) — we are already heavily taxed relative to peers in one of the most heavily taxed counties in the country. These taxes go to pay for our schools, with the Board of Education accounting for roughly 66% of our town budget. According to the latest available data on spending utilized consistently by Wilton’s Board of Education, Wilton spends more per student than Darien, New Canaan, Ridgefield, and Fairfield. Wilton is not in any way skimping on our schools or students, nor is anyone suggesting we should.

graphic: Warren Serenbetz

I hope that these established facts will help correct some of the misunderstanding and allow Wilton residents to develop informed assessments of current events. Thank you for your interest and involvement in Wilton’s budget process.

Best,

Warren Serenbetz
Wilton Board of Finance, 2007-2017
Chairman, Wilton Board of Finance, 2008-2015