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Wilton's Voices on the 2013 School Budget

Couldn't attend Monday night's meeting, but want to get in on the conversation for Wilton's school budget?

Wilton residents came out and made a number of intelligent, thoughtful comments at Monday To continue the conversation, here’s what they had to say. (And jump into the conversation using the comments below.)

  • The importance of support staff and technology

Jerusha Vogel: "As a [Greenwich High School] teacher I can say that nothing is more important…than class size. Even a difference between 20-25 is really significant. The smaller the classes, the more you can connect with every kids, and you can know who gets it and who doesn’t.”

“I taught before , ‘clickers,’ IPads…I was hesitant going back to teaching with all that stuff….But I have to say, technology is remarkable for helping me teach these kids. They have these things called ‘clickers’ where you ask a question and everyone in the classroom can ‘click’ in if they have the answer. I don’t have to wait, I can just move on; I don’t have to wait for the test scores to come back two weeks later.”

“There’s been some questions about spending money on non-teachers…This year alone, I have a student who is pregnant, a student who was arrested for drugs, I’ve had a student who was taken out of school for anorexia, and I’ve had a student whose parents have gone through divorce…And that’s just this year, and I know it’s Greenwich, but this happens here too. The support staff—I see [students] not coming to class, and I connect with [the support staff], and these people who help these [students] with what’s going on in their lives, help me do my job in educating them. So I don’t think any of this money is being wasted. I strongly support this budget.”

  • Cider Mill Librarian Aide

Pam Carlson: She said she supported the budget “100 percent,” but “would like to see a librarian assistant back at Cider Mill…Just this week there’ve been 3-4 instances where people can’t come because their kids are sick, and that means there’s a big hole in that library every day.”

Patty Temple: Temple asked about the funding for an additional Cider Mill librarian, .

Danielle Decrette: I was one of those concerned parents who wrote the letter about the library at Cider Mill…If each one of you went to the library and spent half an hour trying to find five books on the shelf, you would understand why we need a library aide, just so the [volunteer] parents can make sure the stacks are correct and the aide can take care of everything else and catalogued and in order for the kids. There’s nothing worse than seeing them trying to get a copy of The Hunger Games and not being able to find it."

  • Senior opinions, for and against:

Stephen Hudspeth: “My kids went through this system two decades ago and they went on the back of seniors as well as all other citizens of this town. We were beneficiaries of that and it’s time to pick up the same mantel now."

“I am so impressed by the qualities of the teachers and administrators..I don’t know how it’s possible to run a 70 million dollar operation with the leanness of the administrative functions that we have here.”

Milton Pohl: “I go back to the second World War period, where we all lived with a lot less. We went to colleges three semesters a year. My question to the board and the school district is, ‘What would happen if this budget were cut one percent or two percent? Would it really hurt the students to lose 15k a year, to lose 700 or 1500 a year somewhere in this budget? My feeling is that it wouldn’t really hurt a great deal.”

“According to the statistics that I read, I think it’s 50-and-a-half percent of the [people] in this town don’t have a child in the school system. We should be very careful, when 70-75 percent of the budget goes to the school, and it doesn’t benefit half the community,” said Paul.

“I never had children in this school district. I moved here 28 years ago and my children were all out of school... I strongly support the school system, never spoken up before about the budget, but I think there is a limit. I don’t mind educating the other part of the community’s children, but I wonder if I should be taking care of them after school, for things like teen centers so they can have concerts and all the rest of it,” said Paul.

“It should be paid for by the sweat-effort of the children - excuse the expression - or by the parents of those who are benefitting” from the teen center.

Edward Papp criticized the BoE for its progressive inflation, saying that the 2013 budget is about a “nine percent” increase from “.”

“And in exchange, we’re getting two new teachers, and I don’t think that sits well with a lot of people in town.”

“Are we going to be faced with a situation, where 12 years ago, it was 33 million [budget], now it’s 74 [million], are we going to go up to 160 in 12 years? Where are the controls necessary to keep this town viable?”

Saying his taxes have increased significantly since he moved here, Papp believed that the services the town Provided haven’t really changed “over those 25 years.”

A “six million [increase] over a four year period, is just too high,” he said.

Michael Graupner: believed that school workers  had too much work leave, including family, medical and vacation leave.  “I added it up and what I got was about 3-4 months of leave of what workers in this town who work for us are getting, and it’s way out of whack with what you or I would have gotten in the private sector."

Graupner said that there were “two main constituencies” in Wilton: seniors and parents. He said that the PTA had “denigrated” in the past couple weeks, and that the PTA failed to “communicate what is really going on in the school system and how are we really judging the value of our teachers. How are measuring our teachers? Not only by students in the class, but also parents of kids in the class…we need to dig deeper in the financial aspects," said Graupner.

  • Senior problem?

Graupner: “Seniors in this town get lip service and if it wasn’t for them, or in my personal 37 years of paying property tax, then you wouldn’t have the money for all the wonderful thing you guys are saying you’re trying to do. The senior issue has been with the Board of Selectmen for two years. Nopthing much has happened. The selectman feel that if [I] need a few dollars, then I can go to them for [some money] and pay them back down the road…I ask you [addressing BoF/BoE] to work for the road of selectman to work with the Selectmen to address the senior issue in this town.” 

“I’m a fan of the school system, but it’s gotten to the point where it’s very very difficult for me to pay it anymore,”

  • Pay-to-Play

Alex Ruskewich: “The problem isn’t that athletic activities aren’t valuable, the question is, who should pay for these things? I see pay-to-play in Ridgefield, Avon, Darien….When you get to college, there’s activity fees.”

 “Those who get the benefit are those who should end up paying for it,” he said, although he believed there should be exceptions or “a scholarship” for those families who can’t afford an activity fee.”

Temple: “I am a supporter of pay-to-play.” She said that when her daughter was in high school, her daughter was a part of a rowing team which, since Wilton does not have a crew team, effectively became a pay-to-play sport. “While it may not be a big drop in the bucket, anything would be of help to contribute to the financing of the schools.”

Deborah McFadden:  “I’m vehemently opposed to pay-to-play. That’s what you do in a private school. This is a  public school. In a public school, everyone is treated equally” from displaying artwork to playing on the football team, she said.

 “is a community center, it’s not just for teens,” said McFadden. “I absolutely support the budget. But absolutely not pay to play.”

Graupner: “It's time for [pay-to-play] to become a reality.”

While not voicing his opinion on pay to play, mentioned in his presentation: "In Ridgefield, if you buy a ticket…it goes back to the athletic department,” said Likely. 

  • Special needs questions and concerns

Decrette: I’m trying to understand the special needs budget, because the enrichment budget was cut drastically two years ago. It has not been reinstated; to my knowledge it hasn’t really been utilized, I think it’s about $4k-$5k per lower grade, and I’m not sure exactly how it’s utilized for the gifted students. There seems to be a disconnect from our elite and gifted students who have gone onto top colleges currently and how we plan for that to happen for our current kids. I would assume, I would hope, that a lot of these gifted kids were gifted kids and graduated in the last 10 years, and got that gifted program and enabled them to go onto those good colleges. I’m curious to know if the thought is that we don’t need the enrichment longer?...That we don’t need that going forward?...Yet we’re still spending $100k on the high school physical education program…so our kids can learn yoga and bacchi ball, which is great…but it’s worth taking a look” at the enrichment program again, otherwise  “we won’t have these [graduation] numbers in 10 years.”

Laurie McCabe: “Please don’t cut the budget…we can’t keep going down; we need to keep going up.”

“I have a special needs child in 4th grade, and I’m absolutely astounded by the services that he’s receiving…Please just support the kids and look to the future and support what they’re here for.”

  • Health benefit increase concern

Ruskewich took issue with the health benefit increase. “When you’re talking about a nine-million dollar budget item, that’s not peanuts. At this point in time in the country, when our neighboring states such as New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, are looking to cut benefits, we have over a nine-percent increase? I don’t understand that one. And I’m even more concerned that we are going to go into additional contract negotiations…We have to stop these, I hate to say it, outrages increases…which are going to flow right through to the taxes.”

  • Staff development

Caroyln Daher: Hoped that “limiting staff development” wouldn’t hinder her child’s learning.

jacquelyn bayne March 28, 2012 at 03:19 PM
I was at the hearings and spoke as well albeit didn't state my name (oops). I was concerned more with how the dollars are being allocated. This year 50K in increases for Testing (28%) was proposed and I wanted to understand why we needed that as we currently (robustly) participate in both mandatory and elective testing in all grades. That money might be better used to fund the Library Aids position or put towards technology or infrastructure.
Diane Kuczo March 28, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Good question, re: the testing. Don't we already have enough testing and test prep?? I would love to see it put towards something else. Even a part time library aide would be helpful, and the balance could be put towards other needs.
Trent N March 28, 2012 at 08:23 PM
It really is a tough issue. We need more technology, so that part of the budget makes sense. But I also sympathize with the seniors, who have had to put up with an increasingly progressive tax burden. If you're not in the higher tax bracket, the taxes will break your back...I think I lean towards Milton Pohl's opinion on cutting the budget a bit, but also keeping technology intact
Eustace Tilley March 28, 2012 at 11:26 PM
We seniors want an excellent school system Its in our interest just as much as its in the interests of parents and children. We are hoping BOE members will focus on curriculum development and course offerings that recognize students, not staff, come first. Why? simply because most of the unsustainable cost increases for the last dozen years or so have gone to staff salary and benefits. The $6,000,000 increase during the last two years is heading mostly to existing staff and we are hiring ONLY TWO new staff. That is unfair to students, parents and seniors. They could easily hire 12 new teachers (one for each grade) to reduce the important teacher-student ratio and bank the rest. I like the wireless investment since it enables the use of iPADS and other tablets that are certainly the most innovative classroom technologies since the chalkboard.
Mary K. March 29, 2012 at 02:22 AM
I'm sorry that they didn't include your comment. Did they include everyone else's?
jacquelyn bayne March 29, 2012 at 11:38 AM
I forgot to state my name so I figured that's why....no offense taken. Iam not sure they mentioned all comments but they mentioned some good ones! I believe if we want to influence how services are delivered we must speak up to let the BOE and BOE know what services we value. Just as importantly, we also should voice concerns about services we do not and consider redirecting those funds to something more useful and widely demanded. It's about leveraging tax dollars to achieve the greatest be fit for all. Feedback is an important part of the process. And many parents and residents do an excellent job voicing their wish list but it's such a small slice of the community and to assure change will benefit the majority we need to hear from many more. BTW, we also learn so much from listening to others and you might come away with a new wish list!
Mary K. March 29, 2012 at 12:16 PM
Were you scared when you talked at the hearing? I would be too nervous to say anything!

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