BOE Chair to BET: Growing Enrollment at Middle Schools and GHS Requires More Teachers

An Open Letter to the Board of Estimate and Taxation submitted by Peter Bernstein, Chairman, Greenwich Board of Education, March 22, 2018

I am asking you to support the Board of Education budget request in the same bi-partisan manner as our Board did when we voted unanimously to adopt this budget.

Regardless of your political affiliation we can all agree that strong schools attract new families to our community and keep property values high.

By all measures our students and schools are quite successful. Just last month we ranked as the fourth best district on the States’ 2016-2017 Next Generation Accountability System; up from sixth last year. This puts us in the 98th percentile of all schools in Connecticut. Eight of our elementary schools were designated as “Schools of Distinction.” Even with that success, we feel there is more work to do as we continue our focus on student growth and personalized learning.

It is important to remember that our budget on the operational side is a planning document as much as it lays out financial need. Budget development began before our current budget was approved by the RTM.

Staff is our largest expense and the number of elementary sections and teachers needed for middle and high school are determined by staffing models set by Board educational policies.

While the BET Budget Guidelines presumed no new net positions, the Guidelines specifically stated it was based on the following: “School enrollment is assumed to be essentially unchanged.”

But school enrollment has changed in an appreciable way. It is not just a change in the number of students that matters, but what schools and grades those students are in.

For next year we are seeing a larger than normal increase at the middle schools and high school from advancing students, resulting in a need for additional staffing. At the same time there is a slight decrease at the elementary level. That decrease is spread throughout all grades at our eleven elementary schools and does not appear to affect the overall number of sections needed given there are increases at some schools and decreases at others. We will continue to refine projections as we get closer to the next school year.

The Superintendent had recommended additional administrative positions, but the Board did not accept that proposal despite a strong case. Instead, our focus is on what happens in the classroom.

Even with the staffing changes, we managed to bring in an overall budget within .1% of the BET Guideline.

In terms of our Capital budget, we need to protect our buildings by properly maintaining them. You heard from the KG&D architectural firm during our day with the Budget Committee that the replacement value of our buildings is approximately one billion dollars. This year’s capital request represents the bridge forward to our master facility plan. The Board will hear the architect’s preliminary proposal on April 5th so we can begin to prioritize for items such as health, safety and ADA compliance. As partners in that process, we ask that you help us ensure our buildings meet the educational needs of today and for years to come.

Thank you for your continuing support of the Greenwich Public Schools, which you can further demonstrate by voting to support our budget request.

An investment in our students and our schools is an investment in the present and the future of Greenwich.

Peter D. Bernstein
Chairman, Greenwich Board of Education