FINN: One party lacks the political will to rebuild and update our public schools – and this is unacceptable

Submitted by Jim Finn, RTM District 8, thoughts are his own

Last week I was honored to be appointed to an interim seat on the Representative Town Meeting from the 8th District.

In addition, it was also confirmed by the town clerk that my name will be on the ballot in November for a full, two-year term on the RTM.

As a 27-year resident of Cos Cob whose two sons attended our public schools K-12, I was really looking forward to discussing the future of Central Middle School at my first RTM meeting as a voting member on Monday night.

Unfortunately, it has been removed from the agenda…how did that happen?

Well, much has been written about the Wetmore legal memo on what the town charter says and how we can’t talk about an interim appropriation without first going through this Municipal Improvement process, although it appears that appropriations have gone forward in the past without MI. So let’s not rehash that and I’ll leave it to the rest of you to wrangle over legal interpretations.

So what’s really going on here?

At first, I thought the First Selectman and the Republican-controlled BET made a terrible political mistake by springing this “timely” legal opinion on the CMS Building Committee and preventing them and the RTM from moving forward with a $42 million interim appropriation.

But it is actually a smart political move if after decades of underfunding public infrastructure – as detailed in the recent League of Women’s Voters report – you want to keep running for re-election on a platform of keeping the mill rate low.  The problem is that a low mill rate is cold comfort when our schools are crumbing. 

In fact, what the First Selectman and the Republican-controlled BET did was a deeply cynical move intended to cut off debate before the election on November 7 while still maintaining that he’s completely behind the project and that the Greenwich Republican ticket is in favor of “fully funding” public education…which is, of course, a baldfaced lie.

Let me say that again: The “timely” August 31 Wetmore memo was intended to prevent putting pressure on Fred Camillo and his colleagues in the Republican-controlled BET to make a decision on funding ahead of an election. So, it would be fair to conclude that the First Selectman’s strategy of obstruct, deny and deflect has worked – to the detriment of our children, their teachers and the community.

Here’s what we do know…

We urgently need a new middle school.  

It will cost $112 million. 

The longer we wait, the more it costs. Escalation costs are approximately $365,000 per month… more than $12,000 per day!

Given what has occurred, it is nearly impossible to take the First Selectman at his word when he said, “we’re going to continue to work wherever and whenever possible to get this moving along.” He added, “again, I can’t state it in strong enough terms that I fully support this project (CMS) going forward.”

Time for the First Selectman to stop straddling the fence and lead, because leadership has been sorely lacking. 

What we need from the First Selectman: Push back on the extremist wing of your party looking to dodge a vote, because they have no intention of stepping up to rebuild and update our public schools.If Planning and Zoning approval was so important— the BET could have taken up the project and appropriated interim funds for CMS that were conditioned on P&Z approval. But they didn’t even take it up. And they don’t want to! 

I’ve only been here 27 years but it is not hard to see that things have changed since 2019. Unaffiliated voters are now the largest block followed by Democrats and then Republicans. This is the new normal that the extremists are refusing to acknowledge.

Simply put, one party lacks the political will to rebuild and update our public schools. And this is unacceptable. This is where we are now but it doesn’t have to be this way. This is not who we are in Greenwich.

Greenwich is an iconic and historic town. We can do better – and we will. No more excuses and paralysis. Let’s move forward together as we always have.

Jim Finn is a member of the RTM from District 8, thoughts are his own