To the Editor:
I’m glad to see we now have a letter explaining why Board of Finance (BOF) Chair Mike Kaelin voted as he did with respect to the Board of Education‘s (BOE) proposed budget — a proposal that reflected an increase less than the current rate of inflation even after multiple lean (or zero) budget-increase years.
Mr. Kaelin has made it clear that he voted as he did specifically over the matter of teacher coaches. That comes as no real surprise since the amount of reduction in the BOE’s proposal — that he and three other members of the BOF voted to approve over the strenuous objection of the two other BOF members — specifically equals the annual cost of the coaching program.
What is hard to understand is why Mr. Kaelin holds these strong feelings about coaches. I wrote a letter to GMW laying out in detail the good that teacher coaches do based on actual investigation. Mr. Kaelin’s response to that in his letter is that our schools did just fine in the past without coaches so why do we need them now?
However, those performing numerous coaching roles were around then, just under a different name: interventionists. They helped kids individually and in small groups, as coaches still do in directly student-facing ways. Coaches in their current form now also help teachers to assimilate curriculum changes and to model new procedures and work in the classroom with students — all as I laid out in much greater detail in my earlier letter.
Mr. Kaelin is joined by all of his fellow members of the BOF in their public comments in strong praise of our School Superintendent Kevin Smith, as well they should be doing, along with our very able and accomplished Board of Education.
Dr. Smith thinks coaches are highly important and has consistently fought to save the coaching program against vigorous opposition from the majority of the BOF —none of whom is an educator, as they freely admit. The BOE, both Democrats and Republicans, voted unanimously in favor of the BOE’s proposed budget that the BOF cut.
At the time the program known as coaching was introduced, Deborah Low was Chair of Wilton’s BOE. This followed a 30-year career in education — including eight years as Superintendent of the Ridgefield School District. So here you have yet another professional educator supporting the coaching program. On the present BOE there is at least one other (recently retired) professional educator. She too supports the coaching program. Educational professionals in other districts use and greatly appreciate their own coaching programs.
Yet here in Wilton, we have four admittedly nonprofessionals in education on the BOF who, when acting together, have unilateral authority over the budget as presented at the Annual Town Meeting this coming Tuesday evening, May 2 at 7 p.m. in the Clune Center Auditorium (please be there!). These four individuals have a difference with the BOE over a specific line item — coaches — in the school budget. However, under state law and our Town Charter, while the BOF has line-item authority over the Board of Selectmen’s budget, it explicitly and specifically does not have that authority over the BOE’s proposed school budget — yet the BOF’s majority presumes to focus on one line and make their cut specifically in an amount based on it.
Let our professional educators do what they do so well — by Mr. Kaelin’s own admission and as shown by the accolades our district and its schools have regularly received, and received again quite recently in a number-one ranking. To the BOF: Don’t try to micromanage that as to which, by your own admission, you lack the expertise to assess.