The Wilton community has a long and proud history of opening our schools to economically disadvantaged students from outside our community. First, when we welcomed Bridgeport students with Project Concern, the predecessor to Open Choice, followed by our welcoming students from across the country with A Better Chance of Wilton (ABC). 

The Board of Education first authorized eight tuition-free ABC students. Following the success of the program, 12 years later the Board of Education authorized an additional six tuition-free students. This represented a commitment for 14 students for four years or a total of 56 years of tuition-free education. I was fortunate to join the ABC organization in 1996 prior to the arrival of the first students. For 15 years, I held various leadership positions within the organization, including president, vice president, and member of the recruiting committee. I continue to see first-hand the life-changing impact the experience had on the early students in terms of their careers and their children. 

Unfortunately, prior to the pandemic, the boys’ program closed leaving eight tuition-free positions unfilled and the community’s generous commitment unmet. 

Fortunately, we have a new opportunity. The goal of the Open Choice Program is to improve academic achievement and reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation. This is similar to ABC’s goal to increase the number of well-educated young people of color capable of assuming positions of leadership in society. 

Dr. Smith has recommended Wilton participate in the Open Choice Program and begin with three kindergarten students and two first graders this fall, all from Norwalk. He proposed on an annual basis, the BOE would decide whether to take any additional students based on classroom capacity and an evaluation of the success of the existing program. 

In contemplating his recommendations, residents and the Board of Education should consider the following key questions: 

  • Do the schools have the capacity to take on five additional students in the 2023-2024 school year? 
  • What are the additional direct or indirect costs to the schools associated with five additional students? 
  • Will there be other required expenditures besides those borne by the Wilton Public Schools? If so, who will pay them? 
  • As a school district and a community are we willing to maintain our previous and unfilled commitment of 32 years (eight students x four years) or the equivalent of 2.45 students for 13 years? 

Do the schools have the capacity? What are the additional direct or indirect costs to the schools for the 5 additional students? 

  • The FY2024 budgeted Miller-Driscoll enrollment is down 10 students versus the actual Oct. 1, 2022 enrollment and down seven students versus the FY2023 budget. 
  • The FY2024 budgeted number of Miller-Driscoll classrooms is the same as the current number of classrooms. 
  • Year-over-year, a 10-student decrease did not result in a decrease in the number of classroom teachers, specials teachers, and other staffing. There was no discernable budgeted decrease in any costs, whether fixed, semi-variable or variable. 
  • As documented below, grades K and 1 have the capacity to absorb a combined five students and still have five fewer students at Miller-Driscoll than the Oct. 1, 2022, actual enrollment. 
  • The addition of three students in kindergarten along with two students in first grade will not require additional classroom teachers, other staff or other overhead costs. Mathematically and otherwise, the incremental cost of adding five students is not equal to five times the average cost per student, as has been alleged. As above and below, there is not a need to increase existing teaching staff and other resources to add five new students. As a result, the direct incremental costs are expected to be less than the $3,000 per student and incremental Educational Cost Sharing Grant amount Wilton would receive from the State. Additionally, the State would pay the cost of transportation to and from school. If a student would require special education services, the program allows Wilton to charge Norwalk the reasonable cost of services provided in excess of the $3,000 received from the State. The direct and indirect costs to the taxpayers for providing this opportunity to these children is minimal. 

Will there be other required expenditures besides those borne by the WPS? If so, who will pay them?

Based on my 15 years with A Better Chance and my six years with a nonprofit organization I founded, managed, and funded that provided educational programs to low-income students in grades K through 2 in Danbury, I believe the Open Choice students will require financial assistance with the cost of extra-curricular activities, athletic and music equipment, transportation back and forth to activities, periodic extra help and other types of costs most Wilton parents are able to pay for their own children. Having spoken with individuals connected with Open Choice, a child’s ability to participate in activities outside of school with their classmates is critical in allowing them to bond and create lasting friendships with their classmates. 

Those costs should not be borne by the WPS, but rather funded by donations. As someone who has personally raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations for Wilton non-profits, I am confident that will happen. 

Having lived in Wilton for 35 years and having held volunteer and elected leadership positions for almost 30 of those years, I believe that the same generous spirit that led to Wilton’s participation in Project Concern, the resident-led effort to build town-sponsored affordable single-family homes in Wilton, the establishment of A Better Chance of Wilton and the more recent resident-led and resident financially-supported construction of affordable senior housing, still continues today among Wilton residents. Open Choice is a fiscally prudent means to continue this proud and generous legacy.  

13 replies on “Vanderslice Op-Ed:  Why I Support Dr. Smith’s Recommendation to Participate in Open Choice”

  1. This is wonderful, and forces me to re-evaluate (some!) of my criticism of Ms. Vanderslice; I only hope that other Republicans get the message.

    1. Thank you Lynne, this is by far the most informative article I have read about Open Choice for our town. I appreciate all you have done for Wilton!

  2. I support Open Choice in Wilton, and appreciate Lynne Vanderslice’s well-considered endorsement of Dr. Kevin Smith’s recommendation to participate in the program. I have also been a supporter of ABC Wilton, and witnessed the effects of the Wilton education system and broader familial and community support on both the ABC Scholars and the Wilton students with whom they share classrooms, playing fields, musical groups, leadership activities, and homes. I should also note that I can recall the buses bringing students from outside Wilton to elementary school here when I was a preK-6th grade student myself, and that had a positive impact on my own development and perspective. A modicum of diversity, and not just exposure, but the long-term development of relationships with students of different backgrounds and socioeconomic status, will help all students, those riding the bus and those learning alongside them.

  3. Thank you so much for this OP-ED and giving residents the factual information needed to understand the positives of being part of the Open Choice Program! There has been a lot of false information going around regarding the economic burden that would be put upon the taxpayers in Wilton. Also, Dr. Smith made it very clear when he presented this program that it would be decided upon on an annual basis whether or not to take additional students.

  4. Thank you, Selectwoman Vanderslice, for this informative and much needed article. As to Mr. Love’s comment, yes, I too hope this information will change some mindsets towards a more unified support for the Open Choice program.

  5. “ As someone who has personally raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations for Wilton non-profits, I am confident that will happen. “

    Sorry but as a taxpayer this is not good enough. Raise the money first and then let’s approve the students. Doing in reverse still leaves taxpayers exposed to potentially increased costs.

    1. Then I hope you’re applying this to the new turf field as well. Because I’m not aware of warf putting their half a million in escrow.
      How does anyone not see how this is a good thing? And how does anyone not see how poor the optics are of railing against offering a superior education to less privileged children.

  6. Thank you Lynne for once again thoughtfully and succinctly presenting the considerations involved with Open Choice.

  7. Thank you, Ms. Vanderslice, for providing so much clarity and data to assuage the concerns of Open Choice opponents. And please count me in for donating to an extracurriculars fund to help new students feel more connected to the community. From the first day of school, each Open Choice child should receive a warm welcome. We might just need to remind one another that a lot of our own children are from Norwalk, too.

  8. Thank you Lynne for once again demonstrating what clear-eyed, nonpartisan, evidence-based leadership looks like.
    Wilton is lucky to have you. Big shoes.

  9. This resonates for me much more strongly than the poem, “An Ode to Open Choice” that I see published on the wilton RTC page under the Stay Informed header…

    “Just one student from Norwalk we add
    And we’re locked into a commitment that’s not so glad
    $260,000 we’re obliged to pay
    For the next 12 years, come what may”

    “Why are we subsidizing a wealth transfer to Norwalk?
    Is it a great financial deal for them? I balk
    It would be fair if they paid us $20,000 each year
    For every “Johnny” we educate, that much is clear”

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