Submitted by Dina Urso
This letter is in response to Nisha Arora’s letter to the editor dated 12/7/22.
I am a lifelong resident of Greenwich and parent of three boys who attend Greenwich Public Schools. I have followed the CMS saga since it was shut down in February 2022 by the Town of Greenwich Building Department. My son was a 6 the grader at the time. I was on the Board of Directors of the CMS PTA during last school year and have since become co-president for the organization, causing me to focus even moreso on the details and timeline over the last few months.
(N.B., I am writing this letter as a parent and tax payer, not in my capacity as the CMS PTA president. These sentiments are my own, not those of the organization nor our Board of Directors).
Educational Specifications Have Been Approved
In February and March 2022, after the school shut down, I listened to meetings with Dr. Jones and the Board of Education (“BOE”) where state grant timelines were discussed. I was incredulous that the application could not be pulled together in just a few months’ time. Dr. Jones acknowledged that town government worked very slowly and that there was no way June 2022 was a possibility. Little did I know at the time that she was completely correct.
It took the BOE countless meetings throughout the spring and summer to finally decide on Educational Specifications (‘Ed Specs”) that they all unanimously agreed upon in August. It was frustrating to watch meeting after meeting as a spectator (I can only imagine what it was like to be one of the members of the BOE having to actually participated in the conversations with no vote after so many meetings). Each BOE member, however, appeared to me as an outside spectator to be deliberate and responsive to concerns and issues that were raised in each meeting. It appeared that none of them voted to approve until he or she was ready.
The Ed Specs are less than 5,000 square feet bigger than the current 1957 building. It provides a two- teaching-team-per-grade-delivery-model which is what the students currently experience. The current idea for the new campus layout is to put the new building in the back portion of the lot. Such a plan will address parking issues in a positive way because vehicular traffic will be queued up on the property rather than on Indian Rock, Orchard and Stanwich each day.
Political Bias Unnecessarily in Play
Fast forward to what is seemingly going on in the Building Committee. Ms. Arora, the appointed BET voting member, gratuitously points out in her LTE that Mr. Turner, the CMS Building Committee’s chair, is the former DTC chair. In what capacity is this former title relevant to the issue at hand? Is it to make sure that all Republicans in town read between the lines and look at the person at the helm as “one of them” so as to legitimize her argument that the project’s budget keeps unnecessarily increasing based on the political affiliation of the Committee’s chair? I am a registered Republican and can say unequivocally that I and other Republicans I know in town want this project to proceed in the way that the BOE has given its stamp of approval for in August 2022. This should not be a “Republican/ Democrat/us/them” issue. The focus should be on providing the best SCHOOL for our students and teachers who are in the building every day.
Ms. Arora has divulged details about what the Building Committee has done in executive session in her Letter to the Editor. While I don’t take issue with the basic premise that such formats should be used sparingly when discussing matters of government, I do question whether her actions are appropriate. She seems to take issue with how often bid-related meetings were conducted in such a format but, rather than be respectful of it and talk to the committee Chair about the executive session format being overused, she informs the public in her LTE of confidential matters that were discussed behind closed doors and comes across as sour grapes by doing so. What is worse is that the other members of the committee are not in a position to respond without stooping to her level of breaching confidentiality rules.
As an attorney, I would be grieved if not disbarred if I disregarded rules involving confidential communications. The committee should be able to discuss matters it sees fit behind closed doors without worrying that the content of those conversations will be broadcast in such a public fashion. What are we teaching our children about civics and basic ethics by acting in such a way?
The Price Tag and Timeline
Ms. Arora states that the amount that was budgeted for this project by the BET is $60 million when, in fact, $67.5 million was earmarked for FY 23-24 in the BET’s final Capital Budget. Where did the $7.5 million difference go? Was this a scrivener’s error or is Ms. Arora trying to give the appearance that the $85.5 million price tag that is now being discussed in the BOE meetings that much more extreme and extravagant? By the way, the $67.5 million place holder does not include anything besides the shell of the building!! If we want furniture in the rooms, grass on the fields, asphalt on the parking lot, then a price has to be paid for them (not to mention everything else a building requires to function on a daily basis!)
What is the End Game Here?
What is the result that Ms. Arora is looking to attain? Is it to build a school for students who are supposed to be learning in a space that is fit for future generations? One that has enough space to deliver an education that they deserve? One that can serve the community and organizations that will surely use it for generations to come? Or is it to be as tight as possible with the purse strings because she thinks that is what every Republican in town wants? I can say unequivocally that, as a Republican, I do not want the BET to hold the purse strings as tight as they can on this project. Our children deserve more. Our town deserves more. Ms. Arora, please do more and listen to your constituents (and their children) who want more.