Kendra Baker photosNo more than 50 people gathered in the Middlebrook School auditorium Monday, March 26, for the Board of Finance\u2019s public hearing on the proposed $82,376,563 Board of Education budget for fiscal year 2019 (FY19), which reflects a 2.24% increase over the current school budget. Board of Education Chair Christine Finkelstein said there are \u201cmany important items that either are not included \u2026 or are not fully funded\u201d in the proposed budget. \u201cThis is a very lean budget \u2014\u00a0there\u2019s no mistaking that. We\u2019ve been cutting and cutting for the past several years. There\u2019s nothing left to cut,\u201d she said. \u201cWe\u2019re dangerously close to doing damage to important instruction in our schools.\u201d In 1944, Finkelstein said, Wilton residents \u201cspoke out against any efforts to settle on the type of education a Wilton student would receive.\u201d \u201cI have to wonder: What will history say about the choices we made in 2018?\u201d she said. \u201cWill volume two of the history of Wilton say that residents chose to invest in our schools even when the grand list was down and the state\u2019s finances were in disarray\u00a0\u2026 or will they say that 2018 was the turning point for the Wilton schools?\u201d Comments Of the 13 residents who commented on the proposed budget during the hearing, 10 expressed support while three expressed opposition, uncertainty or criticism. Bristol Place resident Michael Salit said the Wilton school system does provide \u201can excellent education\u201d and he can \u201cunderstand the concern for preservation\u201d and \u201cconcerns for our children,\u201d but the education board \u201chas demonstrated in years past that they really don\u2019t have their act together where their budgets are concerned.\u201d Salit noted that the FY19 budget proposed by the superintendent back in January was \u201cpretty close\u201d to the finance board\u2019s guidance of a 1% increase, \u201cbut somehow or another, the chair of the board comes out with a 2.24% increase.\u201d The fact that he opposes this, Salit said, does not mean he is against education. \u201cIn this town, I\u2019ve spent more than $7 out of every $10, either directly or indirectly, to support education, so you can\u2019t tell me that I am not supporting education,\u201d said Salit. \u201cWhat I\u2019m suggesting is get your house in order.\u201d Salit said he has 40 years of business experience under his belt and was not only personally affected by the 2008 financial crisis, but has seen \u201cother companies and individuals\u201d who were affected as well. \u201cCandidly, I don\u2019t think there\u2019s enough respect here in this town for all the hardships that people actually are enduring,\u201d he said. Salit said he knows the Board of Finance has been trying to work with the Board of Education to \u201cget the budgetary processes in line,\u201d but he doesn\u2019t think the finance board has \u201cdone enough\u201d to let the education board know \u201cwe\u2019re watching [and] going to be watching and doing more to make sure that they keep their financial house in order.\u201d One resident who expressed support of the budget was Margaret Feltz, a Clover Drive Extension resident and mother of a special needs child. Feltz said \u201cthe wonderful team at Miller-Driscoll\u201d has worked with her son since he was a preschool student. Over the approximately five years he\u2019s been there, she said, \u201che\u2019s grown tremendously.\u201d \u201cI moved to Wilton in 2005, well before I became a parent, and I willingly and eagerly paid taxes to support the children of this town,\u201d said Feltz, \u201cand I\u2019m willing to support all of our children, whether they\u2019re gifted, difficult or special like my son.\u201d Feltz said parents \u201call want the same thing for [their] kids \u2014 \u00a0that they\u2019re happy and healthy, independent and successful and challenged at the appropriate level for them.\u201d \u201cThe teachers, staff and administrators at our schools pour their hearts into what they do,\u201d she said. \u201cI feel like it\u2019s my \u2026 ethical duty, but it\u2019s also my pleasure, to support the work of our educators.\u201d Nod Hill Road resident Max Gabrielson, who taught high school for the last 18 years, said he \u201cstrongly\u201d supports the proposed budget. Gabrielson said his family moved to Wilton 20 years ago because of the Wilton school system\u2019s \u201csuperior reputation,\u201d and his two children benefited from the \u201cgreat instruction\u201d they received in the schools. \u201cAs a community,\u201d he said, \u201cthe education of our children is our highest collective priority.\u201d Gabrielson expressed concern about \u201congoing school budget reductions\u201d in Wilton, which he said will \u201ceventually take a toll on the quality of our school system, and that in turn will have a deleterious impact on our town.\u201d \u201cSeveral years of significant school budget austerity will begin to have a very real and very negative impact on our schools,\u201d he said. \u201cThis will, without a doubt, cause home values that have already flatlined to decline further.\u201d Gabrielson said he believes the town needs to take the \u201cnecessary steps to ensure that our schools maintain their cherished reputation for excellence.\u201d \u201cWhile it takes many years to build a premiere and highly-esteemed school system, the quality of that same system can be quickly eroded. That is why I want to see our school system fully and reasonably funded \u2026 to maintain the competitive advantage our town has enjoyed for many years,\u201d he said. \u201cHome prices are one thing; the value of a child\u2019s education is priceless. Education is a human capital investment \u2014\u00a0one that pays incalculable dividends over many decades of a person\u2019s life.\u201d Gabrielson said he doesn\u2019t mind paying taxes when he knows that his tax dollars are being \u201cwisely and prudently invested in the children of our town.\u201d Glen Hill Road resident Stephen Hudspeth, whose last child graduated from the school system two decades ago, said he cares about Wilton\u2019s school children because \u201cthey\u2019re the future of our town.\u201d He said the proposed 2.24% increase is \u201creally the minimum that we need to do to keep the educational course on track.\u201d \u201cIt\u2019s not what we want to do\u00a0\u2014 we want to do more than that, but it\u2019s the minimum we can do and keep things moving forward,\u201d he said. Hudspeth said the town\u2019s vision has \u201calways been that Wilton will have great schools.\u201d \u201cThat is what attracts people here; that\u2019s what my family here 30 years ago \u2026 this is the centerpiece of our town investment,\u201d he said. \u201cPreserve it, protect it, defend it.\u201d What\u2019s next The Board of Finance\u2019s hearing on the proposed Board of Selectmen budget takes place tonight, March 27, 7:30 p.m. at Middlebrook School. With the budgets as submitted by the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education, the Board of Finance calculated last week that the town\u2019s total operating requirements for FY19 would come to about $128.1 million. The finance board will hold its mill rate meetings next week on Tuesday, April 3, and Wednesday, April 4. Each will take place at 7:30 p.m. in Room B of town hall. If needed, a third mill rate meeting will take place Thursday, April 5, at the same time and place.