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.