Letter: Subsidizing other schools

To the Editors:
I want to mention a common but misleading justification for the current school/back-office consolidation proposals. The argument is that wealthy towns (like us) are subsidizing the inefficiency of small, unconsolidated districts (Sterling, to use a common example). Wilton gets $463,000 in State educational funding (ECS) whereas Sterling which is 1/8th our size, gets over $3,100,000.
First, the ECS formula does not take into account spending at all, but relies on measures of property wealth, income, and student need. Under the current formula, both Sterling and Wilton receive exactly the same amount whatever they spend.
Now the median house in Wilton is worth more than 3 times the median house in Sterling. Wilton’s median household income is 2.4 times higher. 14% of Sterling’s students are low income, 2% of Wilton’s. That’s the reason Sterling’s ECS funding is much higher than Wilton’s.
More important, Sterling spends 73% of its budget on instruction, making it ninth highest in the state. Wilton only spends 63%. And Sterling spends a total of $15,224 per pupil, almost $1,500 less than the state median for a town, while Wilton spends $20,263, $3,500 more. Even fully adjusted for cost of living, Sterling is exactly in line with the Connecticut average. Where exactly are Sterling’s inefficiencies that Wilton is supposedly subsidizing?
There has been talk of withholding ECS funding from small towns that don’t take some measures of consolidation. If Wilton lost all its funding they would still have $20,149 left per student, an inconvenience at worst. If Sterling lost theirs they would have $9,197 per student, which would destroy their district.
By using phony justifications like this we don’t look like a town interested in other town’s efficiencies. We just look like a rich town that doesn’t want to help less wealthy towns get adequate school funding (no wonder we’re not popular in Hartford). But is that what we are?
P.S. Of the 20 highest spending districts, 12 are at least partly regionalized. And the median spending for full K-12 regions is $19,645, $2,200 higher than the state median. Tell me where the big savings are.
Peter Squitieri
Wilton, March 19