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15 replies on “Letter: Wilton School Parents — If You Care About Your Kids’ Education, Feb. 9 is Critical”

  1. Once again, doomsayer Steve Hudspeth raises the spector of the demise of Wilton schools should the town fail to spend millions more on this most sacred cow. Do Wilton taxpayers really understand whether more of their money each and every year is actually contributing to a better educational outcome for their kids, or does it go to a bloated administration and union prerogatives?

    In these times of high inflation, diminished IRAs and other investments, let us not demean “senior citizens” and others who question the ready spending habits of Mr. Hudspeth. If it weren’t for these pensioners and empty nesters, the annual per student cost of education in Wilton, and the mil rate, would be staggering.

    1. a) Schools are the only thing keeping those pensioners’ and empty nesters’ home values from cratering; New Yorkers aren’t buying houses in Wilton for our bucolic rural lifestyle. In an era of “diminished IRAs and other investments,” the last thing any senior-citizen homeowner can afford is for Wilton’s schools to be perceived as cheap / second-tier.

      b) Senior citizens are vastly *over*-represented in Wilton politics because they have the most free time; supporting our schools is the preference of a sizable majority of Wilton voters, it’s just that most of them have jobs and soccer games and other stuff that makes it hard for them to show up at silly meetings to listen to people in love with the sound of their own voices for hours on end. Reminding parents to push through all of that to support them when it counts is perfectly reasonable.

      And if it weren’t for us parents doing that – at board meetings and Annual Town Meetings and all the rest – Wilton seniors, most of them members of the most entitled + short-sighted + generally babyish generation in American history (though some of them delightful exceptions to the overall awfulness of that generation), would be living in much cheaper houses and facing much more financially stressful retirements than they are now.

      When the prospect of Social Security and Medicare reform comes up in the next few months – as it most certainly will – I look forward to hearing your enthusiastic support for cutting benefits for current retirees (an even bigger ‘sacred cow’ we seem to keep spending more money on) and your suggestion that people write CMS a big check if they think the government should be spending more on seniors’ health care.

      1. So Wilton seniors are mostly entitled, short-sighted, and part of a generally babyish generation. Tell that to the folks at Wilton Greens, Mike.
        Re.Social security and medicare, nobody has ever asked for an increase and gotten it. Rather, current seniors and young forward thinkers have and continue to argue that the government should allow citizens to keep their own money and invest it as they see fit. If that were the case I would have a huge nest egg, be more self sufficient, and maybe more amenable to paying for your kids education.

        1. Residents of senior living facilities aren’t paying the high property taxes you’re so upset about, nor are they generally entitled to vote at Annual Town Meetings. For the vast majority of seniors actually voting to cut school budgets, I think my comment is accurate. (I would not necessarily exclude all Wilton Greens residents from that group either, though)

          As for your nest egg, once again, it would be much smaller if you didn’t own a very valuable home in Wilton, the value of which is being maintained because parents want to move here to put their kids in the schools.

          My comment about Social Security and Medicare was meant to make the point that we all pay for things we don’t currently use – that pretty much comes with living in a civilized society. The fact that one of those budgets is federal and one of them local doesn’t change the fact that just as you’re paying for my kids’ schools, I’m paying for your Social Security and Medicare. If I no longer had to pay FICA taxes but would in exchange have to pay the full cost of my kids’ educations, that would be an excellent deal for me.

          And you’re stuck paying for public schools wherever you live, just as I’m stuck paying social security taxes wherever I live. If you don’t like doing it in Wilton, you can sell that very valuable home and move to a lower-tax state where the schools are terrible and your money goes farther. And probably also make a tidy profit buying a cheaper home there and selling your fancy Wilton home to a young family who’ll promptly join me in voting for higher school budgets. If you truly believe that all of us are mooching off of you and that we’d be sunk without subsidies from Wilton’s seniors, then you should have no problem demonstrating that fact by moving away and forcing us to suffer without those subsidies.

          1. Mr Love,
            I am reading this public debate with astonishment at the horrible, insulting nature of it towards seniors….likely your own parents…. and the complete lack of facts or comprehension of comparative spending levels.
            First, the majority of Wilton taxpayers do not have children in the schools. That majority does a significant amount to support the town, including schools. Included in that majority are seniors. Included in that majority are many people who volunteer their very valuable time and skills to make Wilton a better place to live.
            Secondly, on a per student basis, Wilton is already one of the top spending school districts in the state according to all public comparisons. Most people were surprised in prior years when the data came out showing that Wilton spends more per student than Darien and New Canaan, not to mention Ridgefield, etc. While the rankings change every year, most schools systems in the area have very similar funding per student.
            Third, context is important… the 5.99% increase being discussed is higher than any of the surrounding towns, in some cases, quite significantly higher. Suggesting that people who feel that they can not afford it should move, is simply not your call, not to mention that those qualities that you accuse seniors of… entitled, etc., seem better applied to your comments.
            Fourth, Wilton residents earn less on average than Darien and other surrounding towns, but still funds more per student than Darien, so your assertions about seniors and others without children in the schools are totally incorrect, not to mention highly inappropriate. Lastly, if you can comprehend that seniors read these letters to the editor as well, and do not appreciate your incredibly distasteful and inaccurate comments, and if you wish to improve your communication skills and your relationships with your neighbors, please read and model Steve Hudspeth’s comments. Contrary to your comments, Wilton is fortunate to have long time residents like Steve, who express their views with civility and genuinely care about others.

  2. Is there an executive summary of the budget propositions and main stakes to be discussed available anywhere? As a parent of young children, I don’t have the time to review the 381 slides published on the BOE website. I wish I could be better informed than I currently am, and would appreciate any help in directing me to concise documentation repository. Thanks in advance.

  3. Mr. Koenigsberg:

    In general I take it as both a privilege and a responsibility that as somebody who follows Wilton politics and can write pretty well but is far too politically fringe-y to ever be able to run for elected office here, I can get away with saying things in public that offend large portions of Wilton voters. When it comes to defending schools for Wilton’s kids, I don’t believe neighborliness or civility is remotely called for; the stakes are such that frankly I wish people would be a lot angrier than they are. (I’d also point out that the comment I was originally responding to was equally un-civil yet you somehow don’t seem to have taken any issue with that)

    In this particular case, I have actually received positive feedback on my comments from a number of Wilton seniors. I can assure you also that my parents and other older family members take no issue at all with my sentiments towards their fellow Baby Boomers; if you are yourself a Baby Boomer and don’t see the problems with your generation then I’d suggest you take some time for self-reflection on that.

    Regarding children in the schools, I refer to you my previous comments on Social Security. I don’t see why funding for seniors gets to be a political third rail but funding for kids does not. (well actually I do, because again, seniors have the free time to vote + show up at silly meetings, but I don’t think it’s right and I don’t mind calling it out)

    Regarding per-student spending, there are all sorts of reasons for that; Wilton having a slightly smaller population than most of our neighbors but the same fixed costs is probably the biggest one. Those two issues could be addressed by inclusive zoning and school regionalization respectively, but those are also political third rails at the moment. The size of the increase is not actually very much larger than our neighbors (and I think Norwalk is something like 12%) and is undoubtedly in part a consequence of all of the years where we were passing “lean budgets” (coming in below all of those neighboring districts) thanks to your buddies on the Board of Finance refusing to fund the schools consistently.

    As far as earning less on average than surrounding towns, I don’t know where you’re getting your information but if you check Wikipedia you’ll see that with a median household income of $180,313 Wilton ranks #4 in all of Connecticut, behind Weston/Darien/Westport but ahead of New Canaan/Ridgefield/Redding/Easton/Greenwich. There may be some slight reshuffling of the rankings depending on your exact metric, but in no sense is Wilton notably less well-off than our neighbors.

    As far as my communication skills and my relationships with my neighbors, if anything I’ve found that my op-eds / comments on here have made me considerably more friends (or at least fans) in Wilton than I had before I started writing them. Plenty of people who dislike me too, of course, but that’s a trade I’d take any day.

    1. Michael,
      We are fortunate to live in a wonderful town with great people. The most significant point is that you are doubling down on discriminatory comments. Engaging in any form of discrimination, including age discrimination, is not ok. Suggesting that there are too many seniors involved in, or living in Wilton, is not ok. Suggesting that baby boomers should reflect on their generation (because you say so), or that seniors are out of touch, is not ok. Suggesting that you are proud that you do not act with civility in dealing with others is nothing to be proud of, and I sincerely doubt that is making you popular. I’m sorry, but I also have a hard time believing that your parents are proud of your discriminatory comments. Further, I would agree that you should not run for public office…. the main reason that you should never run for public office is that those types of age discrimination comments are actually illegal for any organization receiving funds from the government. Not a positive reflection on yourself or those that you claim to represent.
      As far as your suggestion that Wilton is wealthier than New Canaan or Greenwich, or your suggestion that Norwalk spends more per student than Wilton in schools, those are all complete fabrications. You cite data, from Wikipedia, that you didn’t even read correctly, and you don’t appear to actually understand the context. Even if median income was the single relevant measure, New Canaan median income is higher. Greenwich is far wealthier than Wilton… reported taxable income … the source for median income measurements, is not a good indicator of wealth in Greenwich …..perhaps you don’t understand how that data is compiled but if you understand that Donald Trump’s reported income was below zero for three of the four years he was in office…you would conclude that he is not far poorer than Wilton residents.
      I reiterate, Wilton residents have far less financial resources than Darien, New Canaan, Greenwich, Westport, and Weston.
      I have never heard, as you suggest, that school funding is not a priority in Wilton. The facts speak for themselves. Wilton has among the highest spending per student costs in the highest spending per student state in the United States, and your obfuscation is that parents should be angry because it should be what? …the highest? How is that underfunded? You refer to “lean budgets”. The Wilton student population has fallen 1-2% per year in average since 2007, yet spending has doubled, and per student spending is inline with the wealthiest towns in Connecticut… so you cite irrelevant data with no context and suggest that people should be angry and blame old people?

      I have some alternative suggestions.

      1. Get a copy of the proposed Board of Education budget every year, and read through the entirely of the 150 pages and evaluate where the money is being spent. Evaluate how much the average teacher earns in Wilton vs Darien. Evaluate the number of non student facing personnel vs other school systems… and since you suggest that Wilton has more fixed costs as a percentage of total due to a smaller student base, why don’t you check the actual data and decide how to define “fixed costs”. The buildings are owned by the town. Personnel costs are 70% -80% of the budget… do you believe that those are all fixed costs?
      2. Rather than suggesting that all the parents in town howl that Wilton should be the highest spending district in the county, state and country, perhaps it’s time to engage thoughtfully and help make informed decisions and prioritize. Perhaps it’s time for you to ask “why do we need two overhead structures in Miller Driscoll “, or “what are the reasons that we have the third highest average compensation for teachers in the state of Connecticut, , and is it necessary, can some elements be changed?” or, a question which you asked… “why don’t we offer more foreign language choices and eliminate Latin/greek” (not that I or Steve Hudspeth would agree with elimination of Latin/Greek) or possibly “we have reduced classroom sizes in the past few years by spending more money on smaller classrooms…. Should we instead use those funds for more language classes, or more math tutors for struggling students” , and “ have you considered eliminating x to fund y”etc. None of these are cut and dry, and require careful consideration, and sometimes, difficult choices. We have exceptional educators, and a truly exceptional Superintendent of Schools. Our Board if Education are volunteers who care about our students. Our Board of Finance members are mostly seasoned finance and budgeting experts who toil as volunteers, unappreciated by you clearly, because you want to raise taxes a lot more, and many others in town disagree with you, and the Board of Finance struggles to balance the needs of all constituents.
      3. Everyone wants more, but in every survey, the majority of residents do not want a tax increase of more than 2% . You suggest, based upon data that you believe is relevant, that Wilton is wealthier than all but three towns in Connecticut, yet when those “poorer” towns ran fundraisers for new turf fields, or ice rinks in town, or raised fees for student parking, participation in expensive sports, parents in those towns heeded the call, and paid and raised millions. Where is the participation in Wilton in those facilities and programs?
      See Lynne Vanderslice’s monthly updates. While other towns raise millions and tens of millions, Wilton residents have raised $81,000. Where are all those wealthy residents you referred to? Where are all those who are willing to pay for all these new spending initiatives? Where are those who are willing to engage in fund raising?
      Until you have offered to raise money or give money, or even taken the time to read, understand and engage in informed problem solving, and making choices, that is not perfect, but fair…. not simply complaining, and demanding….. you have no right to suggest that anyone else but you is the problem.
      If you are truly engaging with other like minded parents, then you have the opportunity to actually exhibit true leadership. Volunteer, raise money, and be sympathetic to others, who also happen to be your neighbors.

      1. Regarding moving out: we hear this constant refrain from certain residents about how we ought to be grateful for all of you keeping our school system afloat and how if we don’t get our budgets in order seniors are all going to leave and then we’d be really screwed. I’m saying that if any of you really feel that way, you might as well go ahead and leave because heaven forbid we continue mooching off you.

        So I did not in fact intend to suggest that there were too many seniors in Wilton, but merely that seniors who felt like they were getting a bad deal ought to leave; I would cheerfully extend that to anyone else regardless of age. I also reject the notion that having a negative view of a particular generation’s role in history (excluding the even older generation, I might add) counts as “age discrimination,” but if you choose to interpret it that way then so be it.

        And I don’t claim to represent anybody but myself.

        As far as income data, I’m going by median household income and Wilton is indeed #4, and I already admitted that the rankings might shift a bit depending on your exact metric. If you’re going to seriously argue that this is *not* a wealthy town or that residents don’t have a lot of disposable income, you’re going to find very little sympathy for that argument outside of Wilton.

        “Fixed costs” – the air kind of went out of this now that our budget increase is back in the same 4-5% range as our equally-wealthy neighbors, but obviously an awful lot of those personnel costs don’t scale linearly with the size of the student body. (I have in fact read the entire budget and can supply lots of examples of that if you somehow missed them) Also I was citing Norwalk’s *increase*, not its per student spending, and “lean budget” is exactly the language used repeatedly by our superintendent who you claim to admire.

        As far as raising money, not wanting to spend money on such-and-such sports project doesn’t mean we’re not wealthy, it just means nobody is excited about that particular project. (we punch *way* below our weight statewide in sports championships, see e.g. “CT High School Sports CIAC Inequality,” incidentally another source that has Wilton at #4 in income) Personally, neither of my kids is much of an athlete so I’d be unlikely to personally contribute to or help raise money for a new sports facility (but would not object to my tax dollars going to one); I do contribute to other extracurriculars that my kids make use of, though not all of them are in Wilton. A turf field specifically is an environmental nightmare and it may simply be that not very many residents want one; if somebody tried to raise $1M to put up a giant statue of Mickey Mouse in Wilton Center and only brought in $81,000, I don’t think anybody would interpret that as anything but a lack of interest in Mickey Mouse.

        As far as making choices versus complaining: this is punditry, I’m allowed to express opinions and am under no obligation to do more than that. But at any rate I don’t see how “we should spend more money on the schools” is any less of a choice than “we should cut X to have more money for Y.” (by the same token I think a great way to reduce the federal budget deficit would be to massively increase taxes on wealthy people, but somehow that isn’t treated as “making choices” either)

        The basic thrust of all of my budget comments boils down to this:

        1) The current budget process is severely undemocratic and parents are greatly under-represented in it; and

        2) We ought to spend more money on our schools, both for their own sake – it would be a good use of our money – and because it’ll help grow + maintain property values for Wilton property tax payers.

        I don’t see anything in your very long response to suggest that you have any real answer to those points, or for that matter to suggest that you’re engaging in “informed problem solving” any more than I am; you mostly seem to be offended at my tone / attitude / lack of what you perceive to be civic virtue, and then toss in a couple of extremely tenuous arguments for why Wilton is not actually a wealthy town.

  4. It doesn’t take a statistical guru to calculate alternative investment opportunities for lifetime social security payments. One guy figured some $600,000 was paid to SSA on his behalf and at the age of 67, SSA would pay him $3,075 per month or $ 37,000 per year…Mr. Love, loves this idea and chides seniors to be wary of cutbacks…
    However, if that $600,000 in lifetime contributions had been invested earning just 5% annually, that managed account would be worth $1,900,000. By the time he reached 67. He could easily withdraw $37k/year and not dig into principal. That principal could then be part of his estate to bequeath…or pay property taxes. Pity the folks who die at 68. It’s a Ponzi scheme plain & simple. Cheers!

    1. Just to be clear, I’m not advocating Social Security cutbacks at all – I think it’s wonderful that we live in a society where seniors have guaranteed income for life. However, I also think it’s wonderful that we live in a society that values public education, and I find it obnoxious when people who are themselves recipients of extremely generous amounts of taxpayer money turn around and advocate for stinginess + cutbacks to spending on others.

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