The following Letter to the Editor was written by Michael Kaelin, who is the Chair of the Board of Finance. It does not represent an official stance of the BOF nor is it intended to reflect the views of any BOF member other than Kaelin. He said it was written “in response to the ubiquitous advertisements paid for by one individual urging us to ‘Vote No/Too Low’ on the school budget.”
To: The Editor:
The school budget is not too low. The cost of the “instructional coaches” program is too high and the return on the investment is too uncertain. The budget the Board of Education (BOE) presented to the Board of Finance (BOF) this year included a total of $1,528,128 for “instructional coaches” for teachers at an average cost to the taxpayers of approximately $145,000 for each of the 10.5 instructional coaches. Unfortunately, there is no way to quantify or otherwise prove with objective evidence what we receive in return from this substantial investment.
The BOE and BOF have different responsibilities. The BOE is responsible for providing the best education it can for our students with the financial resources the taxpayers provide to it. The BOF is responsible for recommending to every registered voter and real property owner at the Annual Town Meeting how much resources should be provided to the BOE and the Board of Selectmen after considering the wants and needs of every town department and the willingness and ability of the taxpayers to provide these resources.
To provide a recent example, some have questioned how individual BOF members could have voted to give the BOE $1.4 million less than it requested for its FY24 operating budget and then supported borrowing close to $2 million for a new turf field at Allen’s Meadow. This is not a difficult question for me to answer. Based upon the First Selectwoman’s presentation to the BOF, after subtracting the costs of maintaining a natural grass playing field, the cost of the new turf field at Allen’s Meadow will likely cost taxpayers less than $140,000 per year, which is less than the average cost of one instructional coach. I do not doubt that most taxpayers would rather pay for a new turf playing field than for an instructional coach, and that it is not because they value sports over education. It is because they can see and quantify the benefits they are getting in return for their investment. They cannot do this with instructional coaches.
The Wilton Public Schools were great before the instructional coaches program was implemented, and there is no way to prove they are greater now because of the instructional coaches program. One of the reasons I am so skeptical about the benefits of the instructional coaches is that I have such high regard for our teachers. Our teachers are professionals and are the best at what they do. Like other professionals who are the best at what they do, they learn from experience and from other great professionals who do what they do on a daily basis.
If you are new to town, you should not be dismayed that people disagree about the value of this program or whether the school budget is too high or too low because this is actually the reason for our success. What distinguishes Wilton from other towns is not how much money we spend on our schools, but rather how much we care about our schools, and we do not use money as a proxy to show how much we care about our schools. We go into the schools ourselves and we partner with our teachers to insure that every student succeeds in our schools.
The BOE budget for FY24 the BOF recommended to the Annual Town Meeting is $2,503,830 more than the BOE budget for FY23 — a 2.89% increase from $86,677,862 in FY 23 to $89,181,692 in FY24. Now the voters will decide at the Annual Town Meeting if this is acceptable to them. No matter what they decide, please understand the success of our town and our schools does not depend upon the outcome of the votes at the Annual Town Meeting. It depends upon all of us staying involved, volunteering, and contributing in whatever way we can to make this town and our schools the best they can be.