Don’t cut school spending any further

To the Editors:

On the 14th it looked like the Board of Finance had agreed to a prudent and well thought-out budget, with an unfortunate but judicious flattening of the school budget. The schools wouldn’t get funding that would they could really use, but at least they would be supported at a sustainable level. Now there are rumblings of cutting the budget by another 2 percent. This would be an enormous mistake, and here’s why.

Everyone will agree that the safety and health of our students is absolutely imperative to the town. When our schools do open up, they will need monitors to assure social distancing, and health workers to test students and trace the contacts of those infected. The buildings will need substantially more, and also more frequent cleaning and disinfecting. More resources will be needed to bring students who have fallen behind (and there will be many of those) back up to grade level. Funding these adequately will probably cost considerably more, not less. If supporting these essential efforts takes resources away from “normal” programs and activities the system can only suffer.

Not opening the schools is not an option. The high level of education we expect can only be permanently maintained in a school setting. And the strain on parents of juggling career and child care can’t be tolerated forever.

There is good reason to think that many people will decide to move out of New York and other cities into the suburbs, which gives Wilton an excellent chance of attracting new high-income residents. With or without that, our schools are far and away the most important asset in attracting families to Wilton, and need to be maintained at the highest possible quality. Even without any cuts, this will be the third year with a flat budget, and Wilton has seen the lowest growth, and now has the second-lowest per pupil spending in our DRG. With the surrounding towns calling for no cuts or even increases this year, maintaining the current level of spending sends a signal to potential residents that we will stand behind our schools through thick and thin. Cutting the budget will signal just the opposite. For its long-term prosperity, Wilton cannot afford to send that signal.

Finally, revenues have been conservatively estimated, with large reductions in estimates of state and other revenue and a reduction of the estimated collection rate. With the July tax payments already largely locked, the chances of a revenue collapse are quite small. Even with that conservative stance, the budget generates a tax decrease of almost 4 percent, good news to residents.

In a financial situation like the current one, there will always be risks. But the biggest risk is increasing the need for health, safety, and remediation efforts without adequately funding the “normal” programs. So support our schools, nix the tax cuts.

Peter Squitieri