Letter: A personal consequence of the budget cuts

To the Editors:

My wife lost her job today. She didn’t lose her job because she was stealing office supplies or because she violated HR’s Code of Conduct. She didn’t get let go due to a bad review or because of poor performance. In fact, she was told specifically, just the opposite -- that she excelled in her role.

My wife was a paraprofessional at Cider Mill School, or more simply, a teacher’s aide. She lost her job today due to cuts in our school budget.

During her almost-20 years with Wilton Schools, she worked in Miller-Driscoll, Middlebrook, and Cider Mill. Before that, she worked at The Children’s Center in Comstock. She loved her job and it showed. Whether it was behind closed doors in Special Services, one-on-one in the classroom, or as a whole-class collaborative aide, her love was evident in the thank you notes from her students, their parents, and the thoughtful gifts at Christmastime and year’s end. And what really made her day was to hear a big “Mrs. Cote! Hello Mrs. Cote!” from one of her students down the aisle at the Village Market, or elsewhere around town.

It was a great job for a Wilton mom – at school when our kids were in school, home when they were home, and off when they were off. Dream job. But along with several other paraprofessionals and Wilton moms who served our students, unfortunately the new school budget dictated otherwise.

The pay was good, not great, but good. Good enough to help our family make ends meet, and more importantly, allowed us the extra money to do some of the nice things around Wilton. Extra money to take the kids to Scoops for ice cream after a game. Extra money to go see a movie at Wilton’s Bow Tie Cinemas. Extra money to pick up a coach’s gift from Ken at the Wilton Sport Shop, a graduation present from Ann and Mary at Signature Style, or a thoughtful gift from nice ladies at Open House.

Instead you might see me in my driveway, rotating my own tires and changing my own oil with a $5 filter from Walmart, servicing our vehicles myself, instead of taking them to see Mike and Donnie at Wilton Auto & Tire, or Eric and his service team at Wilton Chevy. I’ll be sharpening my own skis instead of taking them to Nick Lee at Outdoor Sports Center. I’ll also have to tell Nick, who owns a landscaping business in town, that I’ll be pruning my own pear tree and holly bushes this year. And you might see us at Lowe’s or Home Cheapo saving a couple dollars, instead of enjoying the convenience of a quick trip to see Tom at Wilton Hardware. Renew our membership at the Wilton Family Y? Probably have to shoot hoops elsewhere and exercise on our own. Continue to be a host family for our Wilton ABC Scholar? Might have to look at that one, too.

Did voters pass our school budget? Yes, barely. And that was WITH several cuts to staff jobs, maintenance items, and improvements. But even with cuts, some people still stood up, complained, and scrutinized line item after line item.

These are the same people who spoke out and wondered aloud why small businesses are leaving Wilton. I’m not the smartest guy in town – just ask any of our friends or my in-laws – nor do I have my MBA, but it shouldn’t take a genius to answer that question and connect those dots.

I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire. Of the 66 kids in my graduating class, I was one of 13 to go to college. Year after year, townsfolk complained about the school budget, and year after year, they voted against it. Shockingly, not long after my class graduated, the school lost its accreditation. Awesome, way to think things through.

You see, good schools = good students = good people = good communities = good schools.

If you’re not for schools, then you are not for community. There are plenty of other places you can move, maybe even get a bigger house on a bigger chunk of land for less money. But you probably won’t have a Village Market or a Wilton Hardware, supporting our community and employing our Wilton High School students. You definitely won’t have a Blue Ribbon school district with a 99% college matriculation rate. In fact, you might not have a school district to complain about at all.

I’m not worried that my wife won’t find another job. She’s dedicated, bright, and caring. Her next job will come easy, and any employer will be lucky to have her. I’m more concerned for the students who needed her help every day, who counted on her and her fellow paraprofessionals to keep up with their classmates. I’m more concerned about the teachers who relied upon my wife’s help, who now have to slow down so other students can keep up. And lastly, I’m concerned for our community who lost yet another resource for its children.

Next time the school budget comes up for a vote, I’m not checking the “Yes, Approved” box, and I’m obviously not checking the “No, Too High” box. I’m going to check the box that says “No, The School Budget Is Too Low.” Please join me.

Year after year, our Board of Education continues to do more with less than any other surrounding town, and should be applauded for their efforts. However, before you criticize and before you vote, you need to ask yourself, how much “less” can Wilton actually afford?

David Cote

Oak Ledge Lane, May 24