The following letter was shared by the author as an open message to the Wilton Board of Finance regarding the budget-setting process for FY 2024.
Editor’s update: the Thursday, Feb. 9 Special Meeting of the Board of Finance and Board of Education to jointly review the proposed FY’24 school budget has been moved from the usual location in the Wilton High School library to the WHS Zellner Gallery (in the Clune Center). The meeting can also be viewed via Zoom and members of the public can comment during public comment portions of the meeting in person or via Zoom. The meeting agenda is available online.
An Open Letter to the Wilton Board of Finance:
As a taxpayer and a parent of school-aged children attending Wilton Public Schools, I write to express my extreme disappointment in the letter to the editor published in GOOD Morning Wilton on Feb. 6, written by your chair, Michael Kaelin. (To be absolutely clear, I am not commenting in my capacity as co-president of the Miller-Driscoll PTA).
It is truly baffling that Mr. Kaelin would actively seek to discourage members of the public from attending the joint meeting taking place this Thursday, Feb. 9, between the Board of Education and the Board of Finance to review and discuss the superintendent’s proposed budget, by stating that it is “not a critical” date for town residents to express their views. It is even more puzzling in light of the messaging to parents who emailed and showed up to speak in support of the budget at the Board of Finance meeting on April 12 of last year, where they were told that it was too late and encouraged to participate earlier on in the process in the future. Now we are being told that it is too early?
Unfortunately, the mixed messaging from the Board of Finance does not end there. While Mr. Kaelin’s letter encouraged everyone to complete the survey that will be forthcoming on March 6, he in fact stated (and quite proudly so) at the April 12 Board of Finance meeting last year that he “didn’t put any weight on” the results of a similar survey that was circulated to the public last year and which received over 500 responses. He very slightly walked back this statement by then saying that the survey was not what made up his decision. I would like to know whether the members of the board, including Mr. Kaelin, intend to give the responses any weight this year. Regardless, it comes across as incredibly disingenuous when the invitation to complete the survey comes from the very person who stated publicly that he does not give much (if any) weight to its results.
Likewise, Mr. Kaelin’s letter stated that members of the public are “welcome and encouraged” to submit emails to the Board of Finance at any time. Yet, emails sent by parents in support of the budget last year were disparaged as sounding “exactly the same” by your vice chair, Stewart Koenigsberg, at that same April 12 meeting. Mr. Koenigsberg went on to suggest that obviously this meant that people were picking information out of an email or Wilton 412 to support their feedback (assuming for the sake of argument that such information was accurate, why would it matter?). Will members of the Board of Finance give weight to the views expressed in emails supporting the budget this year, regardless of whether they all sound the same?
Suggesting to any town resident that it is not necessary to attend the Feb. 9 meeting also runs completely contrary to the Board of Finance’s own request that we educate ourselves and become more informed citizens. If the goal is truly for people to understand how the budget process works, then surely attending meetings — no matter how early on in the process — is a critical step in learning and should only be encouraged.
Speaking of educating ourselves, Mr. Kaelin, I sincerely hope that you encourage those who serve on the Board of Finance to “take the time to learn” and be informed, just as you do the other residents of Wilton. As of the Feb. 10 joint meeting of the Board of Education and the Board of Finance last year, one of your fellow board members displayed a complete lack of knowledge that Miller and Driscoll are, indeed, one school (and at that point had been merged for over 10 years). Statements such as yours that, “the most impactful comments are the most informed comments,” come across as condescending and hypocritical when at least one of your own board members did not know this basic fact about our town public schools.
In conclusion, I respectfully request that you, as a collective board and as individual members, please stop delivering mixed messages to the public. Either you care about taking our views into consideration or you do not. Discouraging people from showing up to voice their opinions (whether explicitly or implicitly) is confusing for town residents and disheartening to parents and others who care deeply about our public school education budget and desire to participate in the process.