Notes from the Board Table: Public support of school budget is vital
It’s been great to see the level of conversation taking place throughout our town about the ongoing budget deliberations. From headlines in local media outlets, to exchanges taking place on social media, to conversations happening in coffee shops and grocery stores, people are becoming engaged, and understanding what’s at stake.
With the Board of Finance’s public hearing scheduled for next Monday, March 28 at 7:30pm in the Middlebrook Auditorium, it is essential that we keep up this level of civil discourse. I believe the Board of Finance is listening, and coming to understand that Wilton supports its schools, and does not favor further cuts in an already lean education budget.
Last week I wrote about the poor turnout in last year’s election, when only 11% of voters bothered to show up at the polls, and of those who did, most voted against the overall town budget. And I noted that the Board of Finance has interpreted those results as a mandate to reduce spending in all areas, since the majority of voters chose the “No, too high” option.
As I said last week, I think most people didn’t bother to vote, not because they opposed our budget, but because they were too busy, or they thought other people would show up to get the job done. Consider the following excerpt from a letter one citizen sent this past week to the Board of Finance: “In my opinion, the board has misinterpreted last year’s voter turnout. Most people, including the three voters in my house, figured a budget with such a low increase would pass no problem [last year’s budget included a 1.9% increase]. We didn’t vote but will not make the same mistake this year…” This year’s budget includesa modest 1.27% increase in education spending, despite a contractually mandated 3% increase in teacher salaries. Our proposed budget includes several increased efficiencies — headcount reductions, reduction in per pupil costs in special education, savings in energy costs due to our switch to natural gas — and also continues exciting investments in several key areas including:
• STEM Education: This budget funds initial coursework in the nationally acclaimed “Project Lead the Way,” and lays the groundwork for additional courses to be offered at Wilton High School.
• Math Instruction: Creates “math interventionist” positions at Miller-Driscoll, Cider Mill and Wilton High School to assist students struggling with our ongoing rollout of the Math in Focus math curriculum.
(Middlebrook added a math interventionist last year, who will serve as a model for these new positions.)
• Technology Upgrades: Investments in infrastructure to expand our Wi-Fi networks, and purchases of Chromebooks and other devices to move us closer to our goal of “one-to-one” computing in which every student will have access to an Internet-connected device.
• Third Grade World Language: Third graders now benefit from early access to Spanish or French instruction.
• Enrichment and “Gifted” Education: Expands enrichment opportunities at Cider Mill and Middlebrook, and funds school wide access to the Renzulli “GoQuest” system of inquiry-based learning, which allows students to challenge themselves with increasingly difficult concepts.
• Professional Learning: Funds new training opportunities to ensure that Wilton teachers and staff members are fully versed in, and taking advantage of innovative teaching practices designed to better engage students and expand individualized instruction for each student.
These are just a few of the exciting ways in which learning is changing and improving in the Wilton schools. We are revamping and accelerating new teaching techniques and curriculum enhancements across the entire district. This is truly a wonderful time to live and study in Wilton. There is so much good happening in our schools, with so much more to come.
Which is why we can’t risk diverting our focus! Our proposed budget was built based on what we need to meet our goals. Any reduction — and the Board of Finance has indicated that a spending cut is probable — will affect our plans for the 2016-17 school year and beyond. Will the impact be dramatic? Depending on the severity of the reduction, possibly or possibly not.
But make no mistake, a reduction in the 1.27% school budget increase WILL have an effect on your schools.
Which is why supporters of our schools must show up next Monday, March 28 at 7:30pm at the Middlebrook auditorium! Together we can send a clear message of support for Wilton and support for our schools.
I would hate for this to be the year when our realtors switch from telling people that home buyers aren’t coming to Wilton because of high taxes to buyers aren’t coming to Wilton because of a lack for support of our schools. As the data proves we already run our schools more efficiently than our neighboring towns and great schools drive home sales. Please vote.