An Open Letter to the Members of the Board of Estimate and Taxation

Submitted by (see list of RTM members below)

We, the undersigned individual members of the Greenwich Representative Town Meeting, are concerned about the effect of prolonged social isolation on our children’s mental health, what is being called the “COVID slide”, and the increase to an already sizable achievement gap that has been brought on by an extended period of remote learning.  We do not wish to see additional strain placed on our schools.

We therefore ask that you fully fund the education budget as presented by the Board of Education (BOE).  This year’s BET guidance allows for a 3.38 percent BOE budget increase.  The BOE has responded with a budget that has an increase of 3.97 percent.  As you know, because last year’s budget was kept flat, any increase to this year’s budget would represent the increase over a two-year period.

The difference between the two operational budget projections can be reduced to two items.  One is the return of roughly $700k of materials that had been removed from this current year’s budget.  (The full restoration actually costs $2.4M but the BOE already undertook the challenging exercise of finding efficiencies and making cuts elsewhere in the budget.)  The BOE was able to purchase these materials in advance with monies left unspent in last year’s budget when our schools closed due to the pandemic.  But this was a one-time event that we truly hope will not be repeated.  These materials are essential and need to be returned to the budget.  
The other item is an additional $300k that the BOE projects will need to be spent on Special Education ($1.9M rather than $1.6M).  The BOE operating budget must be balanced, and Special Education expenses are not discretionary.  If Special Education is underfunded, the BOE will be forced to find this money from elsewhere in its budget or ask for an interim appropriation.  Neither option is a best management practice. 
We would also like to express our support for the proposed BOE capital budget.  Every project listed is a priority.  The BOE has already carefully considered how many projects it can responsibly manage at any given time.  Taking off or deferring a project would favor some neighborhood schools over others and is not in keeping with our community values.  Nor does it serve the interests of our town to be short sighted in the maintenance, compliance and improvement of our school facilities and technology.

We are as concerned as everyone about the economic impact of the pandemic.  However, current indicators suggest our Town’s finances have held steadfast.  Property transactions — and conveyance tax revenues — have increased.  Divide the $900,000 difference between the BET and BOE budgets by the 16,000 families living in Greenwich and one gets $56.25.  No one will argue that this is trivial, but it is also not excessively burdensome. 
This budget request is the most recent in a ten-year period of very lean budgets.  In this period the BET has held the BOE to strict budget increase caps, and the BOE has complied.  But recent news stories would suggest that in part this has been achieved by having to forgo or defer investments in our schools that are vital to sustaining the quality of education that Greenwich residents expect.  We are all looking forward to a return to normal.  But let’s hope that the new normal means supporting our schools at the level they need and deserve.   

Thank you for your dedication to keeping our Town’s best interests at the forefront of your decisions.

Javier Aleman, Phyllis Alexander, Hector Arzeno, Peter Berg, Glen Canner, Andrea Casson, Mary Connolly Flynn, Liz Eckert, Christine Edwards, Laura Feda, Tracy Freedman, Jennifer Freitag, Candace Garthwaite, Ali Ghiorse, Karen Giannuzzi, Dana Gordon, Mareta Hamre, Barbara Hindman, Emily Hunt, Scott Kalb, Rachel Khanna, Sue Khanna, Gunnar Klintberg, Laura Kostin, Lucy Krasnor, Leander Krueger, Janet Lee McMahon, Nancy Marshall, Victoria Martin Young, Hale McSharry, Stephen Meskers, Paula Mickley, Cheryl Moss, Robert Moss, JoAnn O’Hara, Barbara O’Neill, Sylvester Pecora Sr., Jonathan Perloe, Elizabeth Perry, Monica Prihoda, Caryn Rosenbaum, Molly Saleeby, Diego Sanchez, Diana Singer, David Snyder, Alison Soler, Joanne Steinhart, Janet Stone McGuigan, Louisa Stone, Joanna Swomley, Samarpana Tam, Joan Thakor, Sophie Veronis, Lucy Von Brachel, Allison Walsh, Svetlana Wasserman