GROUP LETTER: RTM’s Hands Were Tied on North Mianus School Emergency Appropriation

Submitted by (see list below)

On Monday, the RTM met to vote on the Board of Education’s request for an emergency interim appropriation to repair the damage caused by the North Mianus School ceiling collapse and to shore-up the building to prevent similar incidents and keep our children safe. Unfortunately, the RTM was not allowed to vote on the $8.1mn amount requested by the BOE because the BET, according to a strict party line vote, had decided to fund only $2.1 million–one quarter–of the BOE request.

The undersigned members of the RTM, including others whose names do not appear below, would have liked to vote in favor of the entire $8.1 million, recognizing that the full amount is needed to get students back to school expeditiously, and there is no time to waste. In fact, the RTM Finance and Legislative and Rules Committees voted unanimously to fund the entire amount of the BOE request during their meetings last week, as did a majority of the Public Works committee. However, according to the rules of the RTM, this was no longer an option.  Once the BET met last Friday and finalized its decision to cut the interim appropriation to $2.1mn, the RTM’s hands were tied. 

It is important to understand that the RTM may only vote to approve or reduce budgeted amounts set by the BET, it cannot add appropriations. RTM members who believe that the $2.1 million is insufficient could have voted no on the appropriation, but that would have denied the BOE even this small fraction of the total funds it desperately needs to start repairs.

RTM members could have abstained from voting for the interim funding, but that still would not have changed the outcome and could potentially have put the small appropriation at risk. The choice presented to the RTM was an illusory choice, like voting with a gun to your head.

When the BET proposes underfunding critical budget items, as it has for many years, it prevents the RTM from having a full debate on budgetary issues and from representing the views of its constituents on important funding matters. In effect, the RTM has no way to push back on a starvation diet that is imposed by the BET. The risk to our town is asymmetric: if the budget is too fat, the RTM can cut it, but if it is too skinny, there is nothing the RTM can do.

The emergency funding request by the BOE for the North Mianus School is a case in point.  Over 300 parents, almost 80% of the school population of North Mianus, signed a letter asking for immediate and full funding to get their kids back to school as quickly and safely as possible.  Many RTM members agree and would like to act expeditiously.  Yet, the BET has removed this option. We could only approve or reject the 25% funding that was offered by the BET.

Unless the charter is changed to allow the RTM  to propose budget increases, all power over the budget will continue to reside with the BET. The BET is a 12 member body, with 6 Republicans and 6 Democrats who are nominated by their respective parties, and approved by popular vote. Whichever party got the most votes in the election gains the chairmanship and the tie-breaking vote.

Many votes in recent years about investing in our Town and our schools have come down to a tie, broken by the Republican members.  In the FY ‘22 budget this included not only the decision to drastically cut the $8.1 million for NMS, but also to deny funding for renovation at Julian Curtiss school, deny a meager amount for an engineering study to evaluate the condition of Central Middle School, refuse funding for a feasibility analysis on providing professional firefighting services to protect residents of Northwest Greenwich, despite the clear recommendations of the consultant hired by the Town, and deny a pittance requested by hundreds of residents to study the feasibility of a safe bike route across town.

A 7-6 strict party line vote by Republicans is preventing thousands of town residents from being able to send their children to safe schools with modern facilities like a science classroom or space for a pre-K, or residents of Northwest Greenwich from being able to have fire emergency response times of less than 10 minutes, or the facility at Holly Hill to be able to implement its Master Plan to alleviate the hazardous and chaotic traffic patterns at the site, to name a few.

Residents who are tired of the penny-wise pound-foolish ideology dominating the BET have the power to change it this November. And here is how: vote for the BET members whose views and votes you support. Leave the other spaces blank.

Ali Ghiorse, District 1
Mary Ellen Markowitz, District 2
Lucy von Brachel, District 4
Monica Prihoda, District 6
Scott Kalb, District 7
Liz Perry, District 7
Janet McMahon, District 8
Cheryl Moss, District 8
Jonathan Perloe, District 8
Phyllis Alexander, District 9
Mareta Hamre, District 10
Joanna Swomley, District 10
Rachel Khanna, District 10
Sophie Veronis, District 10
Svetlana Wasserman, District 10
Gregg Pauletti, District 11
Mary Flynn, District 12
Andrew Winston, District 12