To the Editors:
Wilton has a lot to lose in Hartford’s effort to end its local control of its schools. Today, it is ranked as one of the very best (top 10) districts in the state on a number of criteria including the best teachers, the best places to teach, and the safest schools. Academics are stellar — 81% of students are reading proficient and 68% are math proficient. The graduation rate is almost 100% and board scores are high. Students routinely matriculate at the top universities in the country. Some 98.5% of families pay full price for their school lunches. Families appreciate Wilton’s excellence — the most common survey rating is “excellent.”
No kids in school? Wilton’s schools have a big impact on your home values. Wilton’s median home value is $815,500, substantially above the national average. Most families own their homes; 86% of occupants own. Many factors go into Wilton’s high property values but their schools are high on the list of variables. The excellent schools and high property values have further ramifications on the community including the fact that it is one of the safest places to live in the state. Survey data shows that respondents’ most commonly find it a “very good” place to live.
All of this will change dramatically if the state forces involuntary school consolidation. The consolidated district would bear little resemblance to today’s. Wilton would merge with a community that is only half proficient in reading and one-third proficient in math. The non-graduation rate is over 3 times as high. Board scores are lower and students, on average, go to less selective colleges. Most students get free or reduced lunches. There are fewer teachers per student and they are not as highly compensated. Survey respondents most commonly describe their schools as “average.”
The market values Wilton homes at a substantial premium to “average.” Their values could converge with an enlarged district, where average home values are around 50% of Wilton’s. There are related quality-of-life differences. Education is lower (46% fewer university degrees) and crime is higher. There is twice the burglary and theft and five times the motor vehicle theft per resident. There is 45 times Wilton’s assault rate, four times the robbery, and twice as many rapes per resident. In theory, people may voice enthusiasm for neighborhoods that must contend with such issues; in practice, they pay a significant premium to avoid them.
Those are the raw facts (all available at niche.com): Wilton is a safe town comprised of educated residents who are successfully educating their kids at top schools. It is reasonable that state leaders in Hartford want what you have. We live in the country’s most socioeconomically diverse metropolitan service area and there is a huge range in neighborhoods from some of the safest, most prosperous, and educated neighborhoods to some of the least. However, they should come after your ideas, not your stuff. Copy your best practices and leave Wilton’s schools alone.
Chris DeMuth Jr.
New Canaan, Feb. 4