Submitted by the Republican candidates for the Board of Estimate and Taxation: Nisha Arora, Mike Basham, Bill Drake, Karen Fassuliotis, Dan Ozizmir and Leslie Tarkington
As a community, our collective goal has been and should continue to be to maintain and improve the quality of our Greenwich public school system. Despite being one of the best-funded public school systems in our state, we must never overlook opportunities for improvement. Great teachers and effective pedagogy are the most important drivers of student achievement, but infrastructure also matters. Investing in our school infrastructure not only provides safer and healthier environments but can also lead to better learning outcomes.
As your Republican candidates for the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET), we are committed to continue to provide the necessary resources for the best education of our children. To achieve that objective, we will work with all stakeholders to develop a thoughtful infrastructure investment strategy.
Building and maintaining a top-notch infrastructure requires significant investment over time. Hence it is of paramount importance that a long-term strategy is followed. Our investment strategy should focus on prioritization based well-defined criteria and on excellence in project execution defined by timeliness, quality and cost-effectiveness. With proper prioritization and execution, the necessary funding becomes more manageable.
Prioritization of our capital investments is most important. Those in finance will recognize this as capital allocation. There always will be more investment projects than can be done in any given time in the real world. Prioritization criteria that have broad public support should be followed. We believe that the first priority should be to ensure that every building in our system is structurally sound and safe. Second, we should give higher priority to projects which have higher utilization or projected growth. Finally, the state of maintenance of the school should be a factor in determining the priority. In the current environment of COVID, HVAC systems and air quality should have the highest priority. ADA accessibility should be ranked as high priority as well. We encourage a timely proposal for such improvement. But the question must also be asked – should the Board of Education be prioritizing a significant rebuild of an underutilized school with declining enrollment when others are at capacity?
In addition to prioritization, we believe that there should be focus on project execution. Project execution involves timely completion, quality build, and reasonable cost. Good execution requires effective design, ensuring the build can be reliable and cost-effective. Good execution requires having a strong project team with professionals who have experience and a track record in executing large projects. Good execution requires BET members from both parties to ask intelligent yet tough questions and demand accountability.
In some recent examples, it appears that good execution has been lacking. Projects have taken too long, have cost too much, and, in some instances, the quality has been below par. In February 2021, a portion of the interior ceilings at North Mianus School collapsed due to faulty construction. Thankfully school was not in session when this occurred. The Republican-led BET reviewed and promptly approved expenditures of $4.7 million to fully carry out the North Mianus repairs, including rental of alternative school space for the displaced students and bus transportation. Earlier cost estimates of $8.1 million proved to be excessive and did not include $1.2 million added later for classroom rental and student transportation. Republican BET members, after a thorough review, assured public funds were spent promptly and effectively. A substantial savings to taxpayers was the result. We believe the school system and every resident and taxpayer was well served by this careful planning by BET Republicans. This success is one example of the Republican led policy of supporting proper infrastructure in our schools while providing financial oversight.
As members of the BET, we understand that we have a fiduciary responsibility to Greenwich taxpayers. Rather than debating if we should be burdening our future with long-term debt to finance these projects, the real questions that should be asked is have these projects been responsibly vetted? Is there a team in place to manage such significant capital projects? The educators in our schools should excel in education but should not have to worry about executing real estate projects. The BOE Master Plan estimates school renovation costs that are 2-3x that of new construction. As your BET leaders, we will ask what can be done to bring these costs in line with national averages?
Over the last 17 budgets, excluding inflation, Republicans have voted school capital appropriations totaling the extraordinary sum of $344 million. These projects included new schools at Hamilton Avenue, Glenville School, New Lebanon, an improved Cardinal Stadium, as well as the Music Instructional Space and Auditorium (MISA) and a new secure entryway for Greenwich High School. The ongoing extensive school capital program also includes strong support for maintaining or improving the heating, ventilation and air conditioning, roofs, technology, playgrounds, digital learning, and many other practical nuts-and-bolts items which keep our schools in excellent operating condition. Our commitment to investing in Schools has been extensive.
As the Town’s finance board, the BET is responsible for ensuring public money is spent effectively and sensibly. Providing the highest level of education to our community’s children is a must. As a community, we can fund our schools’ needs in a timely manner – however, we can only do this if we follow a robust process and ensure prudent execution. As Republican members of BET for the 2022-2024 term, we are committed to this objective. We will request an update of priorities, better project execution, and enhanced transparency. We are committed to investing in our schools. We are committed to assuring we respect public funds. We are committed to investing in our children. Our kids and our residents deserve no less.
Nisha Arora, Mike Basham, Bill Drake, Karen Fassuliotis, Dan Ozizmir and Leslie Tarkington are the Republican candidates for election to the Board of Estimate and Taxation this November 2nd.