Fenton: BET, Please Fully Fund our Schools

Submitted by Doug Fenton, Riverside

As a new member of the RTM, a financial analyst, and a parent, I have spent recent months analyzing Greenwich Public Schools: our enrollment, staffing, and budget.  Based on my work, I strongly believe that the BET should fully fund the BOE’s approved operating budget.

Last year, when the BET set the Greenwich Public Schools’ budget for 2023-24, they expected to have less than 8,400 students.  Instead, GPS enrolled 8,582 kids, or almost 200 more than were expected.  Despite this, the BET set a guideline of 4.3% budget growth for 2024-25, or only +2% per student.  This per student spending increase is well below contracted labor inflation (~4%) and in spite of significant expected growth in Special Education costs due to a Connecticut law change and the roll-off of Federal ARP funds.  As a result, even the BOE’s approved budget will result in fewer GPS staff supporting and educating our children next year.

Our nearby towns are displaying different priorities.  Darien (+6.5%), New Canaan (+6.6%), and Westport (+8.1%) are increasing their school budgets notably more than Greenwich, despite those towns all expecting fewer students than they did a year ago.  We will be spending comparably (on a per student basis) to these towns despite our ‘higher needs’ population and smaller school buildings.

Our teachers and staff are already stretched thin.  In Kindergarten through 5th grade, our class sizes are similar or larger than these districts.  At the high school level, GHS has one of the highest student-teacher ratios of comparable districts. Finally, across Greenwich Public Schools, we have the fewest social workers and psychologists per student compared to our peers, despite a growing need for these essential resources.

These outsized demands on our teachers and staff come despite the much higher needs of our school community.  Connecticut identifies 36% of our students as High Needs (defined as Free/Reduced Lunch, Special Education, and/or English Language Learners), reflecting the diversity of Greenwich.  Across Darien, New Canaan, and Westport, only 19% of students are identified as High Needs.  All of our students need appropriate investment to perform and excel.

In the years ahead, Greenwich needs to properly budget for labor inflation and the rising cost to support our growing special ed population.  For this year, I ask the BET to invest responsibly in its children and schools and fully fund the BOE’s proposed operating budget.

Thank you,
Doug Fenton
Riverside, CT