Letter: Any increase too much for school budget

To the Editors:

(The following letter to the Wilton Board of Education is reprinted here at the author’s request.)

Wilton has become known as a town with high taxes. They were mentioned in a New York Times profile of Wilton, and I refer you to a front-page article in The Wilton Bulletin of Sept. 17, 2015 — "Wilton taxes out of line with its neighbors?” Realtors find houses here increasingly difficult to sell because of our high taxes. Next year's re-evaluation is only going to exacerbate the property tax issue for Wilton taxpayers.

My husband and I attended the sparsely attended Board of Selectmen budget meeting last Tuesday. The audience was primarily long-term Wilton residents well into their senior years. Jerry and I have now "invested" in the Wilton school and town budgets for 51 years. For 17 years, I have paid taxes in Redding and vote there as a property owner.

I have been appalled and disheartened by the inflammatory rhetoric and scare tactics of the Wilton Board of Education this year. The presentation  used the small amount of increased taxes on a $1.3-million home to minimize the Board of Education's budget request. Over the years, the Wilton Board of Education has sold the town on school budgets of “only” 8%, “only” 7%, and “only” 6% despite warnings of the cumulative effect on our tax rate. Many budgets in recent years have been approved only because they were protected by an unfortunate clause in Wilton's charter. We would have a much more reasonable tax base if our charter had required a vote of 15% to pass.

We all want a good school system with good classroom teachers. It is the excessive numbers of school administrators, support staff, "intervention specialists" etc. that are driving Wilton's costs and budgets higher than they need to be. Wilton is also not yet dealing with the fact that our school population is dropping, and that this trend is expected to continue. Redding, with a much more frugal approach to town and school budgets and with greater voter participation, has been dealing with this difficult issue responsibly for some years. Wilton subsidizes sports to a degree that does not exist in surrounding towns. Wilton and New Canaan are the only schools that allow teachers’ children to attend free. The cost of this has been raised and questioned in New Canaan and needs to be considered in Wilton also. With a few exceptions, I am  supportive of special education  — especially students with developmental delays, and I  prefer to provide services to children and families rather than to pay high legal fees.

Unlike Board of Education member Chris Stroup, my dream is to wake up to the same reality as Redding/Easton voters already have — "Board of Education will go negative."  Even  a 1.1% increase in the Wilton school budget is too much. I urge you to match the Board of Selectmen's flat budget for 2016-2017.

Thank you for your consideration.  
Barbara B. Holdridge
Forge Road, April 4