Letter: Budget up, students and taxpayers lose

To the Editors:

Why is Wilton’s $18M special education (SPED) budget increasing 10% this year due to legal fees and settlement costs? I am concerned all Wilton students are losing services because of mismanagement.

Board of Education Chair Likly said SPED has “clearly defined, legal processes” including a “collaborative process … with SPED teachers…”

Our experience has been different.

Wilton scheduled, then canceled two SPED meetings in early January. Our children were never evaluated for SPED or offered interim educational services.

Instead, Wilton put us into settlement negotiations. Wilton offered us 5+ years of private school tuition for both of our children: over $300,000.  In return, they wanted our silence on school operation/capital budget issues and all indoor air quality (IAQ) issues they publicly dismiss. To secure our children’s right to an education, we had to give up our right to free speech.

We thought this use of $300,000 SPED/Town funds was inappropriate.

In January, we requested First Selectman Brennan and Town Counsel Bernhard to investigate. No response. In March, we asked the Board of Finance (BOF) to investigate. Town Counsel now speaks with the BOE attorney — but not us. And his representations to the BOF bear no resemblance to the facts.

Does our experience explain why SPED lwwegal fees and settlements are up 10%?

Given IAQ health issues, we requested our children be placed in Ridgefield public schools, one of eight EPA award-winning IAQ districts in Connecticut. The cost: approximately $13,000 per child annually — less than Wilton’s average cost of $17,000 and the $27,000+ annual settlement offer. As soon as the IAQ issues were resolved in Wilton, we wanted our children to return to Wilton schools, which could be months if statute violations were corrected immediately. We even offered Wilton a $20,000 contribution to fix the Miller-Driscoll roof! But Wilton rejected it.

BOE Chair Likly said if a parent disagrees with the district’s education plan, due process can cost “$15,000 per day.”  Wilton never gave us a meeting, or a plan. So how could we disagree with it? If due process takes four to six days ($60,000-$90,000), why would the district offer $300,000+ rather than consider our request for Ridgefield public? Wilton’s options:

  • Ridgefield Public: $13,000/child/year. If IAQ corrected, total cost could be $13,000
  • Due Process: $60,000-90,000+
  • Settlement offer: $300,000+

Our experience: Wilton pursued the most expensive options possible. This may explain why the BOE and SPED budgets are increasing, some SPED children are not receiving services and regular education services are being affected. Programs have been lost, books/equipment aren’t being replaced.

I agree with town counsel: the special education process is broken. As is the overall BOE budget.

Town leaders need to fix this broken process. All Wilton students are missing services they deserve because administrators and lawyers are not managing the SPED process or budgets. Since there is no transparency or accountability, where exactly is all the money going?

I think all Wilton students, and taxpayers, deserve better.

Marissa Lowthert

Keeler’s Ridge, April 29