Basham: Now is not the time to assign blame on Central Middle School

Submitted by Mike Basham, Republican vice chair of Greenwich’s Board of Estimate and Taxation

In the spring of 2018, as Vice-Chair of the RTM Finance Committee, I attended a presentation of the BOE’s Facilities Master Plan by KG&D, the consulting firm hired by the BOE to conduct a study of the
Town’s existing school buildings and prepare a 15-year capital budget plan.

Since that presentation, I have been continually puzzled by the position of Central Middle School 15 plus years out in the Master Plan when KG&D said it needed to be torn down and replaced at some point. If it was in such bad shape, it didn’t seem logical to spend millions to maintain it until it could be torn down. The only explanation given was that the decision would be up to the Board of Education to
finalize the prioritization of their capital projects.

Connecticut General Statues Chapter 170, Section 10-220 states the following: “Each local board of
education…shall make a continuing study of the need for school facilities and a long-term building program and from time to time make recommendations based on such study to the Town….” There can be no doubt that the responsibility for prioritizing the capital plan resides with the BOE, not the BET, as many have erroneously suggested. In June 2018, the then Democratic BET Chair Jill Oberlander said, “We ask that the board does the difficult work of determining not only the priority, but also a timetable for implementation.” Just to be abundantly clear, both Republicans and Democrats on the BOE have the responsibility to prioritize their capital projects, not the BET.

While the BOE has an obligation to prioritize its capital requests, the final decision on funding rests with the BET and then the RTM. These bodies can only fund those requests presented to them, that are deemed necessary and clearly rise above competing priorities. It’s clear now that, until recently, the
BOE did not believe the capital plan that placed rebuilding CMS so far into the future met that standard.

During the recent campaign for the BET, I and my Republican colleagues, made it very clear that proper prioritization of school capital projects was an important issue, and I said on a number of occasions that the replacement of Central Middle School should be accelerated. Fortunately, the BOE’s proposed capital plan did move the appropriation to rebuild Central from FY 2033-2034 to FY 2025-2026.

Obviously, recent events strongly make it very clear that it should be rebuilt as soon as practically

Now is not the time to assign blame, and the righteous high ground is much too narrow for all those clamoring to occupy it.

This is the time for all of us to get this right. To that end, in addition to the funds needed to make CMS safe for students to return to school; I encourage my Republican and Democrat BOE colleagues to ask for an interim appropriation of $250,000 to begin the Central Middle School feasibility study as soon as possible.

Additionally, I urge them to move the $2.5 million funds for the architectural and engineering work listed in the FY 2024-2025 capital plan, into the current FY 2022-2023 budget currently being developed. It is vitally important that our Town come together now to get Central done in a timely manner, and I pledge to work collaboratively with all of my BET colleagues to make this happen.

Mike Basham
Vice Chair, Board of Estimate and Taxation