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. 

Steve Hudspeth

6 replies on “LETTER: Bd. of Finance Lacks Expertise to Assess Educational Value of Proposed School Budget”

  1. The irony of course is that Mr. Hudspeth is no budget expert but nonetheless calls for more spending each and every year. There is a big difference between his cheerleader status and Mr. Kalin’s quarterback role on the BOF. Mr Hudspeth is after all the one who mis-managed the Annual Town Meeting that led to the Miller -Driscoll $40 million boondoggle and supported the erroneous notion that the budget should increase if enrollment increases using the average cost per student…just another tax and spend guy who now openly condemns the BOF chairman and long time volunteer. Poor form in my opinion.

  2. Thank you Steve Hudspeth for once again so eloquently expressing exactly what I too was feeling after I read Kaelin’s letter. I agree with your message to the BOF – “To the BOF: Don’t try to micromanage that as to which, by your own admission, you lack the expertise to assess”

  3. One would think that like other Town Boards and Commissions, volunteers who are either appointed by the Board of Selectmen or, having first been screened by the DTC or RTC, and then elected by the general public, have the required experience to deliberate on their subject matter. It is an election year this year, so anyone can run for office if there are any open seats on the Board of Finance to see if they can “do better”, whatever that means to you.

    However, the BOF does not have “unilateral” authority over the budget. That’s decided by town vote, or by looking at it for past few years, it’s decided by no-one voting, which makes non-voting decidedly one-sided, and therefore unilateral.

    I would be very concerned, however, for any primary or secondary school educator reputedly admitting in Mr. Hudsepth’s “investigation” that they would be “lost without the help of a coach” because that means either the state’s teaching certification process is deficient or that Wilton Public Schools does not support its teaching staff by not providing enough professional development days or other types of “coaching” and support services that does not involve hiring more staff to support the existing staff. After-all, any CT-state certified teacher is certified to teach by themselves…

  4. Steve,
    With all the greatest respect for you, your entire premise is completely inaccurate. I (and others) said that the view on spending is that the overwhelming majority of Wilton constituents who responded to surveys, this year and in past years, are not in favor of such large tax increases. At no time did I (or most other members of the BOF) suggest in this year’s debate that the teachers coaches were the primary driver for the vote to reduce the Sica le requested increase, and you are also incorrect in stating that two members of the BOF “strenuously” disagreed with reducing the increase. If you review the meeting video you will see that five of six were interested in reducing the level of increase, but ultimately, the majority of four voted for a more significant cut in the budget increase. The Board of Finance members do not need to be experts at educational pedagogy, but, again, with all due respect, neither are you, and your letter to the editor is confusing, at best, with respect to the role of the BOF. As I am certain you are aware, the role of the BOF is to critically evaluate spending levels, cost benefit, and also to attempt to gauge taxpayers’ willingness to pay for proposed increases in taxes and spending. You also quote somewhat irrelevant information regarding what should be measured. Since the student population is nearly 20% lower now than it was at the peak, of course the increases in gross dollars have been less than the increases measured in per student spending, where Wilton has outspent Darien and New Canaan according to the source most cited by the BOE, and when we don’t outspend those superior schools, we spend nearly as much… again, on a per student basis. That is the most relevant data. If we are spending generally similar amounts per student verses other surrounding towns, because we adjust our spending targets to stay in that range, how is it relevant that we aren’t increasing spending as much as school districts that are actually growing faster, or shrinking more slowly… it isn’t relevant. Wilton continues to rank among the best schools in Connecticut, so obviously, these constant, relentless, annual predictions of Armageddon if we don’t have high single digit tax increase have not and will not come true as long as we are spending generally in line per student with the best schools in Connecticut. Lastly, have a look at Dr. Smith proposed actions to respond to the reduction in the increase. There is nothing evenly remotely close to pointing to a major educational services issue, and I am grateful for the leadership of Dr Smith in working through this, and by the way, anyone who wants to contribute money to the schools, can do so. Everyone who wants to provide even more support, please send a check to the Board of Education, as I will.

    1. Thank you for your insight and all of your volunteer hours put into the budget process. This clearly summarizes the issue. The tax and spend to no end is excessive.

    2. Well said. If anything, the Board of Finance should flex its muscles a bit more and call for an evaluation of the effectiveness of the spending that we are making on the schools. What has happened to MAPS and SBA scores over the past 10 years and how does this compare to other school districts? How about SAT scores? Can we get some more data so we can start having non-emotional discussions about budgets?

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