To the Editor:

There has been quite a bit of “spirited” discussion in GOOD Morning Wilton on the budget, so I wanted to take a moment to share some perspectives as a long-time resident of Wilton, a father of three children who attended Wilton’s excellent schools, and as a volunteer member of the Board of Finance.

I’m grateful for the leadership of [Wilton Schools Superintendent] Dr. Kevin Smith and [First Selectwoman] Lynne Vanderslice in finding cost savings that support a lower mill rate increase. There were some who, like clockwork, once again, predicted catastrophic consequences to the schools to achieve the targeted budget recommended by the Board of Finance, and Dr. Smith’s recommendations clearly indicate nothing dire, only continued superior education and spending-per-student growth in line with or in excess of surrounding very highly ranked school districts. 

While reasonable people can disagree, it’s been interesting to me to see how some people who do not take the time to actually evaluate the data, or listen to discussions, tend to criticize those who do. Those critics do not acknowledge or possibly, do not understand that Wilton’s student population has fallen significantly since its peak. It was 20% higher. This year’s enrollment declined [more than] 1% verses last year, with even larger decreases in prior years. 

These critics also do not acknowledge that Wilton spends more or nearly as much per student than most surrounding towns with exceptional schools. Additionally, Wilton will continue to rank highly in increases in per pupil spending in FY24 (a factor of our declining enrollment, while the enrollment in surrounding schools is generally either decreasing less or increasing). 

These critics prefer to engage in “data-free” personal attacks then to acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of Wilton taxpayers do not want nor believe it necessary to increase taxes so significantly. This year’s town survey with [approximately] 800 respondents indicated that two-thirds supported much lower tax increases than proposed, and the majority of respondents supported lower BOE budget increases. These results are completely in line with prior surveys completed in-house and by third-party firms. Some of these critics, while quick to criticize the survey, will point to the relatively few people who make statements at board or town meetings, as if they represent the majority better than surveys, or town votes. While I and others on our board are grateful for all those who speak and send us letters, there is also a vast group of taxpayers who choose not to, because they don’t have the time, or perhaps feel that they will be treated disrespectfully in the room by those who disagree with them. 

I hope that the thoughtful and respectful overwhelming majority continue to support well-reasoned, prudent and intelligent decisions for the continued excellence of the town’s exceptional schools and town resources, and for those who claim that they would happily pay much more for even better schools, please address your check to the Wilton Board of Education in an amount of at least 1% of your annual property taxes, as I will.  

Stewart Koenigsberg 

3 replies on “LETTER — BOF’s Koenigsberg: Support BOF’s “Reasoned, Prudent & Intelligent Decisions” on Schools & Town Resources”

  1. It’s funny how you’re always eager to bring up declining enrollment yet never bother to mention inflation. Yes, enrollment declined more than 1%, but inflation in 2022 was 6.5%. It looks like WPS’ enrollment in 2017 was 4022 and in 2023 it’s projected to be 3688, an 8% decrease; meanwhile, the Consumer Price Index on 2017 was 245.1 and now it’s 301.8, a 23% increase. The school budget in 2017 was $80.5 million, for 2023 it’s $89.2 million, an 11% increase; if you divide that by the number of students and adjust for inflation, we’re actually spending about 2% less per student next year than we did in 2017. (interestingly, it would be almost even if not for your last-minute $1.4M cut)

    As far as the survey, I’ve already gone over the glaring methodological problems with that in several previous comments, and your excuses for why that should count more than letters or in-person statements are, frankly, balderdash, but if you really support every resident having a voice and believe that in-person participation should not count for anything, would you support reforms to the Wilton town charter to:

    a) Allow the Annual Town Meeting to raise, and not just lower, the Board of Education budget; and
    b) Allow residents to vote on those changes remotely, or by a later paper ballot

    If not, it seems hard to rectify that position with your heavy reliance on online resident surveys to justify budget cuts. (Personally, I plan to hammer this issue of charter reform heavily this fall, particularly as the rumored Republican candidate for First Selectwoman has a long track record on education that would start to seem awfully shallow if she refused to also support healthy school budgets)

    Your suggestion about residents writing checks is fundamentally unserious, and I’m pretty sure you know that; the larger debate about whether the town should fully fund the school budget or rely on charity to cover the gap is, frankly, much too important to undertake in GMW comments, but I hope to see the Board of Finance candidates grapple with it properly in this fall’s election.

  2. “It’s been interesting to me to see how some people who do not take the time to actually evaluate the data, or listen to discussions, tend to criticize those who do.” Is this referring to the clear-cut data regarding inflation, or the discussions and fact-based evidence regarding the value of instructional coaches? Very interesting indeed how certain data and discussions are ignored when they do not support some of the BOF members’ own personal opinions and agendas. It seems that your time could better be spent participating meaningfully in some of these discussions rather than writing letter after letter to GMW.

    “A vast group of taxpayers who choose not to [speak up], because they don’t have the time, or perhaps feel that they will be treated disrespectfully in the room by those who disagree with them.” Funny how this made-up group and its opinions is somehow given greater weight than those who DO show up to voice their opinions—the majority of which are parents who somehow *made* the time by missing work or getting babysitters, despite the fact that they *were* actually treated disrespectfully by members of the BOF in previous meetings last year. When supporters of the budget do not show up for such legitimate reasons as these, the BOF claims it’s because they do not care enough, but when critics are absent it’s because they’re too busy or afraid to voice their opinions? Ok.

    The acrobatics is nothing short of impressive:

    BOF to budget supporters last year = you showed up too late, your emails all sounded the same, you need to educate yourselves

    BOF to budget supporters this year = it’s too soon so don’t bother showing up, the “quality” of your opinions will be judged but ultimately we will rely on a yes/no survey as opposed to the well-educated and reasoned opinions of those who make the time to voice them

    In a couple of weeks, it will be back to = well the 15% threshold was not reached or the majority voted “yes,” so that means that most taxpayers were in support, when the reality is that voters simply do not trust that the BOF would come back with an increase even if the budget was rejected as too low.

    And please, just stop with the offers to write checks to the BOE. That is not how the system works and I, along with many others, find this ridiculous ploy extremely patronizing and offensive.

  3. An excellent summary of why we should vote “No, too high.”
    Twenty percent fewer students…
    Be sure to vote otherwise this excessive taxing will continue.

Comments are closed.