View from Glen Hill: Don’t diminish all we have built

We address each year at this time how much to devote to our most valuable and irreplaceable town asset — our schools.  

There are many thoughtful folks wrestling with that question, but there remain a small but very vocal minority for whom, whatever the proposal, reduction is the sole response notwithstanding the grave jeopardy created by budgets that leave too much undone.

Those of us deeply concerned that cuts will be made to the Board of Education’s proposed school budget need to come out in force and speak up this coming Monday, March 26, at 7:30 p.m. in the Middlebrook School auditorium at the public hearing on the proposed school budget. We need to come out again in force on May 1 at 7:30 p.m., for the Annual Town Meeting in the Clune Center, both to speak and to vote.

If you have school-aged children, this should be among your highest callings as a parent: to assure the funding is there to sustain our schools’ excellence. And if your children have long since graduated but you still care about the strength and vitality of our town schools as our most important collective resource, that same high calling is yours as well.

The Board of Education’s proposed school budget increase of 2.24% — with over three-quarters of that increase driven by contractual mandates — follows a year in which there was no increase at all. And in the year before that, the increase was less than 1%. Contrast that with neighboring towns that last year had large percentage increases and are proposing to do the same again this year. The message becomes clear to our highly rated educators who have alternatives and can sense the way the educational winds are blowing. The result is that which has taken years to build can quickly be destroyed. We who care about the consequences are the bulwark against that deplorable outcome only if we speak up and then vote.

And make no mistake about it, if reductions are made in the proposed budget there will be serious consequences. Just some of what is likely to be on the line include the following: class size increases, reduced professional learning opportunities, impact on outstanding arts programs and after-school programs (the latter of which have been rebuilt so well in recent years), and fewer patrollers in our schools (sadly ironical right after Parkland). In short, reduction of the proposed budget will have a clearly detrimental impact on that which is essential to our schools’ well-being, representing a major hit going to the fundamental quality of our school system.

We’ve seen over the past month what energized and well-organized students of whom we all should be very proud can accomplish when they mobilize. We need similarly to mobilize to protect the Board of Education’s proposed budget against reduction.

Additional notes

On the subject of current discussions about armed presence in schools: Our schools have long had the armed presence of outstanding Wilton Police Department School Resource Officers (SROs) who perform a variety of educational as well as police-presence functions. The first SRO came on in 1999, and the present senior SRO has held that position for a dozen years. Three years ago, a second SRO was added as part of the excellent work of our town’s Security Task Force that increased substantially all of our schools’ physical security.   

On the subject of a letter to the editor in last week’s issue which made financial comparisons between Wilton and Westport: That letter referenced mill rate percentage changes over the period 2004-2016 but neglected to include percentage increases in each town’s grand list (that values all property within the town for taxation purposes). Westport’s average annual grand list percentage increase during that period was more than three times that of Wilton and is the key determinative factor in the mill rate percentage difference.  

The good news for Wilton is that the grand list now seems to be definitely on the rise, and such things as the major planned expansion by Wilton’s largest employer, ASML, both in its physical plant for major research and production facilities here and in its highly skilled workforce in its market-leading, cutting-edge technology for semiconductor chip design and manufacture offers the prospect of much good for the future. That and other encouraging local economic developments make retention of the excellence of our schools all the more important.